By far the most stressful part of my move last month was packing up my kitchen. And the processed confirmed a sad fact: I am a pantry hoarder.
I think Marie Kondo would have had a heart attack if she saw the row of condiments in my fridge that had been developing their own special patina for four years. Needless to say, the pre-move purge was necessary and productive. But three garbage bags later, it also made me feel extremely wasteful.
So while the rest of the internet is fawning over Spring greens, I’m dedicating April to working my way through some of the random overlooked ingredients that managed to make their way across the East River to my new apartment. My goal is to not be throwing these things away another four years from now when a relocation forces me to take in my cabinets with fresh eyes and realize that they belong to a crazy person.
On Wednesday, I’m getting some of my favorite food bloggers involved for a virtual #SpringPantryPurge. So tune in to see all the creative recipes that people make with the things already in their kitchen cupboards!
To kick things off, I decided to tackle my spice rack. Specifically, this gorgeous little box of whole cardamom pods, cloves, cumin seeds, cinnamon, black pepper, and star anise.
One issue with pantry purging is that it’s hard to remember when you brought certain items into your kitchen. And as a hoarder, I tend to underestimate the ages of said items. But this particular box has a definitive time stamp. Last February (2015), it accompanied me back from my best friend’s Indian wedding in Kenya. (You can see my Sari game here, along with other scenes).
A woman after my own heart, Salima gave her guests a beautiful box of whole spices in the gift bag—a way for us to bring back the flavor of all the amazing dishes we gorged on in Mombasa to our own kitchens.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I love cooking Indian food. But one of the things that knocks my dishes down a few pegs on the authenticity scale is that I always opt for the ground spices off my rack instead of toasting and grinding my own. And despite having had a box of whole spice goodies hiding out in my pantry, laziness dissuaded me from using them. That is, until NOW. Thank you #SpringPantryPurge!
My first thought was to make some sort of biryani, a regional Indian rice pilaf with whole spices, vegetables and, sometimes, meat. But I knew that one batch would only get me through a third or so of Salima’s spice jars. So after consulting with the bride herself (over a year after she walked down the aisle), I came up with a novel solution to use up as much of these spices as possible and make Indian cooking that much easier and more authentic going forward: biryani broth.
This flavorful vegetable stock starts with a few of your usual aromatics, along with fresh ginger for a sinus kick. Since toasting whole spices is essential for unleashing their full flavor potential, instead of combining all the ingredients with water in a stockpot, I started by searing the onion and ginger, and then stirring in the spices for a little party on the bottom of the pan. This also amplifies the veggies, allowing you to simmer the broth for less time.
Besides pantry purging, this simple biryani broth is also great for getting rid of any fresh veggie scraps that would otherwise go limp in your fridge and/or get tossed in the trash. I love saving my compostable bits of this and that—carrot peelings, onion skins, fennel fronds, herb stems, etc.—and sticking them in a freezer bag. I add to it throughout the month as I prep, and then make a big batch of broth. So feel free to get crazy with other recyclables. This broth included kale stems and leek tops.
The end result is a pungent, spicy stock that’s full of nuance—just like all the best Indian cooking. Depending on how long you simmer it for, the liquid might be a little too bitter and intense to enjoy on its own as you might a bone broth. It’s really meant to be a concentrated seasoning. And it’s great for adding a punch to tikka masala, lentil curries, and, of course, biryani.
I recommend freezing 2-cup portions so that you can use it in place of stock or water in all these dishes. You might want to still add a little dash of ground spices at the beginning of the cooking process. But this broth is a huge shortcut and allows you to get that depth of flavor without having to crack open 6 different jars in your pantry. And it also means you won’t have to re-hoard with any of these items for a while.
I hope you’ll tune in on Wednesday for all the #SpringPantryPurge fun, and keep checking back throughout the month for more round-ups and inspiration for making the most of your kitchen cabinets!
Vegetable Biryani Broth
- 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
- 1 red onion quartered
- 4 inches ginger root thinly sliced
- 4 cardamom pods
- 4 star anise
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups misc vegetable scraps (leeks, carrot shavings, kale stems, etc.), optional
- 16 cups water
- In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat the oil. Brown the onion and ginger over medium heat until lightly caramelized on all sides, about 4 minutes. Add the cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and salt. Toast the spices, stirring once or twice, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Cover the spice mixture with the water and add any additional veggie scraps you’re using (you can also add a head of garlic or give it a kick with a jalapeno).
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the broth has reduced by two thirds, about 3 hours. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as necessary.
- Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve and store in the fridge until ready to use. You can also freeze individual portions of it to add to quinoa, curries, or rice (like biryani!).