a number of you have requested to see more of my kitchen. i must admit, i’m a little shy when it comes to that because my obsessive nature is in full force in matters of food storage and home decor. but hey, we’re pretty much family now right?
this is kind of a true confessions post. first, i spent the better part of this past weekend going through, cleaning out, and reorganizing my herbs and spices – which is crazy enough considering it wasn’t that much of a mess in the first place. second, after seeing this:
you may think, “how the hell can you get any more organized than that?” but the truth is, as beautiful (imo) as this whole german-made spice drawer contraption is, it’s not that practical in terms of actual use. lucky me, i found this out after i installed the kitchen 3 years ago.
anybody wanna guess why?
that’s right, you can’t see the spices when you open the drawer. so even though they do stay very fresh due to the airtight containers and lack of light, it’s a bitch looking for a spice if you don’t know exactly where it rests in the drawer.
hence, my super-duper tigress powered organizing skillz have helped in this matter. and even though you might have a better spice drawer or shelf, one where you can actually see the spices upon first glance, something like this might work for you. and so i share, in detail, my spice cataloging system.
(spice jars left to right)
americas & eastern eurpoe
chipotle powder, new mexico chile powder, annatto, mace, dill seed, celery seed
citric acid, pickling spice* ginger powder, yellow mustard, juniper berry, caraway, hungrian paprika
porcini salt, wild sicilan fennel, pimentón (spanish paprkia) smoke pimentón, saffron
turkey & north africa
aleppo pepper, nigella, sumac, pomegranate seed, mahleb
mastic, cumin, za’atar* dukkar* ras el hanout*
persia & north india
white pepper, black pepper, lucknow fennel, clove, green cardamom, black cumin, allspice, garam masala*
coriander, cayenne powder, asafoetida (hing) black mustard, ajwain (carom) black salt, curry powder*
turmeric powder, fenugreek, panch poran* aniseed, amchoor (sour mango powder) chat masala*
other than a few tweaks here and there over the weekend, i’ve used this system of categorizing for the last year now. it was the third attempt (i’m embarrassed to say the first of which grouped by seeds, powders, berries & barks…didn’t work. obviously. duh!) and finally the one i’ve found most useful. in addition, i keep the most used spices in each category toward the front of the drawer – this common sense practice would enhance any system.
i really do use all these spices! i haven’t eaten meat in 14 years, and having never embraced that americanized crunchy-tofu vegetarian way of eating, i’ve spent years studying & cooking the great ethnic cuisines that deftly feature veggies on the center of the plate. thus, the many spices i cook with regularly i’ll get on the first try – because i’m usually cooking from one part of the world or another. for those i use less frequently, at least i’ll get the right row!
this weekend i added labels on the bottoms in the hopes that they’ll be helpful in those very instances where i don’t zero in on the right ingredient at first try. (look, i know the top would make more sense, but no labels would fit neatly on these covered jars, and i just couldn’t bring myself to go the sharpie route!)
i ordered my labels from bowfin printworks – worth checking into as even the custom orders are reasonably priced, and you don’t have to pay until your goods are received and you are 100% satisfied.
i resisted the label on the bottom for a while because as you can see from the photo above, once out of the drawer the jars’ contents are visible. still, telling certain spices apart can be difficult even for the avid user. and, truth be told, i’m hoping it will spare some frustrated beckons from the kitchen on those rare occasions when M is tinkering on his lonesome and i am (trying to be) otherwise occupied. we’ll see…
while we are on the subject, let me just say that those little spouts on the tops of my oh-so-lovely spice jars are useless, useless i tell ya. i never use them. it’s all about unscrewing the top and sticking in a big ol’ spoon, or tilting the whole lot in your palm for a birds-eye view of measurement – my favorite way. please, keep that in mind if you are on the lookout for spice containers.
large whole spices, chiles & basics
cinnamon, nutmeg, black cardamom, star anise
cayenne chile, new mexico chile, chipotle chile, anco chile
salt, sugar, vanilla bean, kokum
source great spices – this is the single most important thing you can do to ensure quality. forgettabout those jars in the grocery store. even the bulk spice bins at your local organic store are not that great for most spices.
- if you travel to a spice country – or you know someone who does, get ‘em from the source. i purchased my turkish spices at the istanbul spice bazaar – from a recommended seller. and my indian spices on my latest trip to india. i harvested the wild sicilian fennel on a trip to visit a friend two years ago. and trust me, i’m not afraid to ask traveling friends or family.
- go spice hunting! like the fennel harvesting above. many times you don’t have to travel that far. see what is wild in your area, or another part of the county if you are visiting friends or family. many times wild spice is more potent than it’s cultivated cousin.
- look for your local ethnic specialty shops, i.e. an india food seller for indian spices, slavik or polish for eastern european, a japanese market, etc. they will source infinitely better than a catch-all spice rack at a chain store, and chances are their stock will move much more quickly so what you’re buying is fresh.
- if you don’t live next to a metro area and it’s difficult for you to find specialty stores. look on-line, ask around and see who sources what where. one thing i most definitely order on-line is the best chipotle powder ever. can’t live without it, and their dried chiles are top quality too. (readers if you have a great source for on-line spices please comment below!)
- and of course, you can grow & dry your own! dill seed, fennel seed, etc…
buy whole spices – this is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that the top quality spices you’ve sourced so well, keep. because most whole spices will last indefinitely.
- purchase ground spices only in instances where you cannot buy the spice whole – or the ‘spice’ itself is an actual powder – as in the case of paprika. i’ve noted my powders above, everything else is a whole spice. i crush or ground them as needed with a mortar & pestle or this great gadget.
- make your own spice mixtures (all of the spices above marked with an * are my home spice mixtures). in most cases store-bought mixtures are heavy on the cheaper spices and lighter on the more pricey ones, which won’t assure you an amazing mix. and unless you go to a gourmet shop with made to-order masala, chances are you’re purchasing a powder that is already past it’s prime.
- give your powders a good sniff and an honest toss out every 3 – 6 months. most ground spices, home mixtures included, are at their best quality for 3 months, 6 at the absolute most. this will vary of course, but i can assure you that after 6 months aging in the cupboard your homemade curry powder will have lost it’s punch. so, i make small amounts – no more than 1/2 cup – of only a couple different mixtures at a time. i vary them depending on the time of the year and what type of cooking i’m focusing on.
store spices properly - mainly this means keep them airtight and out of light. excessive heat can be a factor too, but i’ve not found normally hot household temperatures to pose a problem.
shelf by stove
(liter glass jars)
dried garden herbs & flowers
dried herbs are grouped into my spice category. in many countries the flavor of certain dried herbs are ubiquitous and used even when fresh herbs are in season. dried oregano in turkey, mint and rose in persia, and bay leaf in most places of course…
i put mine in large glass jars, tucked out of light to preserve their keeping quality. i grow my own and switch them out each year. growing your own herbs – or buying them from a local farmer who does – and drying them yourself is a sure fire way to top quality dried herbs. to me, store-bought dried herbs cannot compare and i might as well be eating little bits of post-its.
if you’ve not dried herbs before i can honestly say its the easiest thing in the world: keep them on their stems when possible and simply lay them out on a cake rack, screen, or even the kitchen counter in the middle of a warm summer breeze. you could also tie them in bunches and hang them upside down in an open closet, bedroom window ajar. i do. once completely dry, i keep them on their stems whenever possible and slide them right into their jars. upon use, i crumble them directly into the waiting dish, teapot, etc.
lastly (’cause i can’t help but be thorough) please note that poppy seeds and sesame seeds should always be stored in the freezer as they tend to go rancid quickly. ditto for nuts. though not considered a spice, pistachios, cashews and ground nuts (peanuts) are used in much the same way in some cultures. these quickly go rancid at room temperature but will stay fresh indefinitely in the freezer.
i don’t think i can possibly say another thing about dried herb & spice storage in this post.