If you look at our tiny kitchen I think you’d be struck by how incredibly small a space it is (although marginally bigger than our old place) and how much of that space is taken up by spices. We have three spices racks plus enough containers to fill a fourth. Yesterday afternoon I counted 53 spices, 15 of which are whole spices and 9 that are spice mixes. I know that’s a lot and if you don’t have many right now it probably seems some combination of unnecessary, expensive, and intimidating. But there is incredible freedom in cooking that comes with a collection like this, it isn’t something that you acquire overnight, and it isn’t nearly as expensive as you think.
This dish has over 10 spices but the thing to remember is that you aren’t going to use these spices just once. If you look at a recipe and think “well I don’t want to have to buy a whole container of ___ just to make that”, just remember that you’ll have that spice on hand in the future to make another dish. So you’re opening the door to a whole new world of meal opportunities. And if you have a chance to buy spices whole and grind them as needed, they have a shelf life much longer than you will ever have to worry about.
You’ll be amazed at how much mileage you can get out of a single container of some things. The majority of spices we have my wife already had when we moved in together three years ago, and a significant portion of them we have not had to buy since. We have a small jar with whole nutmeg seeds in it and I’m fairly sure it amounts to a lifetime supply. Other things, like cumin, we go through pretty quickly but are still relatively inexpensive.
I head down the street to PFC (People’s Food Co-op) to get spices where they sell them in bulk. If you can find a store like this near you it is almost always going to be cheaper than buying them at a larger grocery store in prepackaged containers. Don’t be frightened by the prices. They’ll be listed per pound (and might be upwards of $15 or $20/lb) but you are going to buy buying maybe $3 worth. I not so quietly cursed in the aisle at PFC a few months ago when I took a vanilla bean (for cake frosting) from a jar that listed them at over $300/lb. Except the pod itself wasn’t even 1/100th of a lb, so the cashier had to put a penny on the scanner to get it the scale to register the weight.
This cabbage, potato, and pea dish is a wonderful excuse to get your spice collection going. There is a long spice list but they are things that you will get frequent use from and will give you an opportunity to cook a variety of other Indian dishes. In addition, you’ll have the chance to pick out the different flavors as you eat and get a better idea of what each spice adds to the dish. Speaking of picking things out, remember that if a recipe calls for you to add whole spices (this one includes whole cloves and cardamom pods) you will want to keep an eye out for them while you’re eating.
So if you don’t have many already, go out and get a few spices! Try out some new recipes and experiment with different flavors; adventure is out there!
Bengali Cabbage with Potatoes and Peas
- 1 medium cabbage
- 5 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1 cup green peas
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 inch ginger, grated
- 2 green chiles
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 red dry chilies, chopped
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 3 cloves
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp garam masala powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 tbsp oil
Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core. Shred the remaining cabbage and set aside. Peel the potatoes and quarter.
Head 2 tbsp of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When hot add in the potato pieces and fry for a few minutes until golden brown. Remove and set aside in a bowl.
Add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil and turn heat to medium. Add the garam masala powder. Stir for 30 seconds to a minute, then add the bay leaf, dry red chilies, and cumin seeds.
After another minute the cumin seeds will start to sputter. When that happens add in the ginger, green chilies, tomato and remaining spices (cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, turmeric, and ground cumin.
Continue to cook until the tomato has softened. Add the cabbage, peas, and salt. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes and water. Cover and reduce heat to low-medium. Cook for 20-25 minutes and stir every few minutes.
Add the sugar and mix well. Continue to cook until the water has dried out. Serve warm, with rice.
Recipe courtesy of The Gastronomic Bong.