Anjarai Petti, the (traditionally)square/ round wooden box used in Tamil nadu to keep necessary groceries for cooking in the kitchen- namely spices used regularly and in most temperings. Rather than having to open several individual bottles or packets, smaller bowls that hold each spice.
Typically, it has the most important and significant spices used in South Indian cooking.
These may be:
1. Mustard seeds
2. Cumin seeds
3. Fenugreek seeds
4. Coriander seeds
5. Channa dal
6. Split urad dal
7. Black peppercorns
8. Dry red chillies.
These ingredients do vary from region to region and also family to family but in essence are the most frequently used in the household and stored within easy reach and accessibility in the kitchen, while cooking.
Although it started off as its name suggests Anjarai- Five, Petti- Box, as a five compartment box, it has grown to accommodate more ingredient. Irrespective of the number of compartments or the ingredients in it, a masala box or masala dabba is a must in every house hold cooking Indian food and are usually passed down from generation to generation. It is a family heritage as valuable as gold and diamonds.
Irrespective of what it’s made from- wood, stainless steel etc…
Always store your masala box in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Close to your stove and well within reach. Ideally it must have a fitting lid and avoid storing over-powering ingredients like asafoetida/hing with other ingredients. Avoid plastic containers.
What to do if you’re just setting up your masala box:
Fill it with spice staples that you know you would regularly use or based on the food you like and want to cook often.
Keep it relevant, ensure you clean the box atleast once a month and re-fill the ingredients by emptying out what is left over into a separate bowl, add fresh ingredients into the container and topping it off with the leftover- this is called FIFO or first in, first out. Ensure the unused or ingredients that you barely use are replaced by frequently used spices/ masalas.
Place a tiny spoon inside it, for easy access.
To save up on space and keep your ingredients fresh, it’s worth exploring having 2 masala boxes for whole and ground spices. Buy small quantities that fit in the compartment and re-fill as needed, without stocking an excess.
It is definitely a utility container worth investing in to improve accessibility and your cooking experience overall. Once you get used to the convenience, there’s just no going back.
So what’s in your masala dabba?