Tag Archives: spices

Variety, Spices, etc.

Folks, for a long time, I had an organizational dilemma. I can’t blame it all on my proximity to Kalustyan’s (a truly remarkable spice and specialty-food market in Manhattan), but it certainly hasn’t helped. You see, I have about fifty different spices in my pantry. I know, this may seem excessive, but I really need every last one of those dried herbs and spices in my possession. Over the past several years, I’ve been teaching myself the arts of Indian, Georgian, and Persian cuisines — cuisines whose dishes are redolent with the aromas of cardamom, coriander, and cumin. And then there’s fenugreek, ginger, saffron, and turmeric. And let’s not forget rose petals, marigold, and nigella seeds… Well, you get the point.

I’m lucky to live in a fairly spacious (by New York standards) one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, but my kitchen is… challenging at times. At about 6-by-9 feet, it sometimes feels like a walk-in closet. (The double doors add to this illusion.) So, making it a user-friendly space has been an evolving process, and one of the trickier challenges has been how to consolidate the spices into one area. Previously, I had a set of magnetic spice containers that I kept on the fridge. And I kept the bulk of my spices in a cabinet over the sink, and the overflow went into a 3-tiered wall-mounted spice rack. I have a very visual/spatial memory, so I could make the situation work pretty well, but it really bothered my inner organizational enthusiast.

Behind these doors is not the utility closet you were expecting. It’s my kitchen.

A couple months back, I had an epiphany … I figured out I needed stackable, airtight containers with wide enough openings to fit varying sizes of measuring spoons. I realized that 4-ounce jelly jars fit the bill. So, I ordered five cases of these smooth-sided canning jars from Fillmore Container — they’re a wholesale vendor of glass jars, lids, candle supplies, etc. Since these jars come without lids, I ordered white metal lids to go with them. And then, finally, I used these erasable labels to label the jars. I found out about the labels through one of my clients, and I love them. They stay on through dish washing (by hand or in the machine), microwave- and (as far as I can tell so far) conventional-oven usage. You write directly on them with permanent marker that easily erases with a dab of rubbing alcohol.

This is but a fraction of my spice collection.


Alphabetically, we’ve only gone through the C’s.









I prefer erasable labels because my spice collection changes based on need, and I don’t want to have to deal with leftover adhesive messiness once a spice container is empty. And while I can be obsessively organized about this kind of thing, I also like irregular, handwritten labels.

The jars are short and flat enough to stack four-high, and they all fit in one section of my kitchen cabinet. The biggest con is that I have to take down the front stacks to get to the rear stacks. I’m working on a solution for that. Ideally, I’d keep them on a shelf like this one above my counter, but I only have room for the one, and I need all of these things within arm’s reach at all times.

Vital ingredients to have within easy reach: coffee (obviously), cooking oils and ghee, no fewer than three kinds of sea salt and a pepper grinder.

The spices in their natural habitat (with refills above).

For now, this works well enough for me… until I have the next epiphany about how to more conveniently store the jars.

Rhubarb: not just for dessert anymore!

A quick note about rhubarb. This week, our CSA fruit share included about 3 pounds of rhubarb from Briermere Farms, and I’ve been contemplating what to do with it. I’ll most likely make a few pints of this delicious Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam from Food 52 that I made last year, but I’m also thinking about savory uses for rhubarb. Rhubarb, in and of itself, isn’t sweet, but it’s most often paired with strawberries in jams, compotes and pies. I found this savory, Indian-inspired recipe for a Rhubarb Lentil Stew last year, and I thought it was brilliant. Usually, I’ll add lemon juice to lentil-based soups and stews to add that bright burst of tartness that balances out the earthy flavor of the legumes. In Mark Bittman’s recipe, the rhubarb provides not only the necessary acidity, but also complex flavor and texture to an already flavorful dish. As with so many of Mark Bittman’s recipes, this one is minimal effort for maximum pleasure. Enjoy!

Lentil and Rhubarb Stew with Indian Spices by Mark Bittman

  • 3 or 4 stalks rhubarb, strings removed, chopped
  • 1 cup orange lentils, well washed
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 dried ancho or other mild chili, optional
  • Salt
  • Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
  • Combine all ingredients except salt and cilantro in a saucepan and add water to cover by about 1 inch. Cook at a steady simmer until lentils and rhubarb are quite soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove cloves and, if you like, cardamom pods. Add salt, then taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with cilantro and serve.