Madhur Jaffrey's Tip For Stocking Up On Spices

If you're not familiar with cookbook author and Indian food expert Madhur Jaffrey, you're going to want to look her up, stat. Born in 1933, according to Waterstones, Jaffrey moved to London as a young adult to study acting at the city's renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The actress went on to make a name for herself in movies such as 1965's "Shakespeare Wallah" (via IMDb), but through her years of acting and living away from her homeland, Jaffrey missed Indian food madly. She learned how to cook it through snail mail correspondence with her mother, according to The Guardian, and by the time she landed in New York and was introduced to New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne, was quite accomplished; Their relationship eventually led to the U.S. publication of Jaffrey's first cookbook, 1973's "Invitation to Indian Cooking."

Many other cookbooks followed, as well as cooking shows. Jaffrey's expertise led both Brits and Americans away from horribly inauthentic creations based on bottled curry powder and towards more nuanced recipes flavored subtly with carefully selected, freshly ground spices. "For Indians, spices are like paints in a paint box," Jaffrey told MasterClass

So if there's anyone we can trust to help us stock our pantries with spices — for cooking Indian food and beyond — it's this Indian food icon.

Assemble your spice arsenal gradually, not all at once

If you're stocking the spices section of your pantry for the first time — or just giving the area a refresh — then you know that the task can be intimidating. There are so many spices out there, it's hard to know which ones you'll draw on time and again — and which ones will just dry out and lose their flavor as they go ignored. Plus, high-quality dried herbs and spices are expensive (via Southern Living), which can be a deterrent when you're trying to build out your spice cabinet.

Luckily, Indian food expert — and by extension, spice expert — Madhur Jaffrey has a great tip for buying spices. Instead of heading to the store (or your favorite website) and stocking up on every single spice you think you'll need in the next one to two years — the approximate shelf life for dried spices, according to Today — you can take a more measured approach and just buy a few spices at a time, depending on what you like to cook. "Go consult a recipe and just get those spices," Jaffrey told MasterClass. "Next time you make another dish or another two dishes, get the spices for just those dishes." 

While Jaffrey was referring specifically to the spices commonly used in Indian cooking, her advice applies to spice-buying overall. Over time, you'll build out a well-rounded — and practical — spice cabinet that reflects your individual tastes.