Indian cooking can seem complicated and convoluted to people who aren’t inherently familiar with it; all that grinding of various spice pastes—a dash of this, a smidgen of that. But the truth is that once you get the hang of a few basic spices, Indian cooking is as straightforward as any other cuisine.

There is, however, a point of caution, and it is this: spices—once packets are opened and freshness seals are ripped away—do not last forever. So if you’ve had turmeric sitting in your kitchen cabinet for months and months, my advice is to throw it away, as you may as well be sprinkling flavorless yellow dust in your food. The maximum time limit for an opened spice packet is one month, which is why I buy my spices in small quantities, and store them in airtight containers. This means purchasing them more frequently, but I get the best out of the spices I buy when I buy only what I need.

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