Spices. What was the first thing that came to mind? Was it heat? Zing? A jolt? Was it curry or other middle eastern dishes doused in heavy colorful sauces? Maybe it was as simple as the word spicy. Maybe your mind went to chili and South American and Mexican dishes. Don’t feel bad this is normal. We’ve been so conditioned as to what a “spice” is that we are falling more and more out of touch with them. However, the world of spice is so much bigger than that. Spice is simply put ANYTHING that flavors a dish and in The Spice Companion by Lior Lev Sercarz he very skillfully walks your through this shift in how you should be thinking about spice.
In his introduction Lior explains that he considers “everything in a dry form that can be ground and used to add flavor a spice.” Think about that for a moment. That quickly becomes a immense library of flavors, well beyond the 20 or so that come on a commercial spice rack.
I know for myself my spice drawer is out of control. OK, well it grew to two drawers. Well, then it gained one basket that quickly became two baskets and I just put in an order for another $80 worth of spices! I think I have a problem.
This is where a book like The Spice Companion is so critical to every home cook. Do you have spices sitting around that you bought for one recipe? Maybe that was a recipe you didn’t like and will never make again or you’ll only make it during the holidays? Spices don’t have an infinite shelf life. Just like any ingredient being able to regularly refresh it will keep the flavors alive and meaningful. So what do you do? With this cookbook simply turn to that spice. Learn about it from all about the plant, to traditional uses, quick and easy recipe ideas, and quick blends.
Take Bay Leaves for example. These all sit around just getting older and dryer. Crumbling into nothing but instead of just throwing a leaf into a soup or stew try this:
- While searing fish in a pan, ignite 1 or 2 bay leafs , drop them into the pan, cover, and let them burn out to get a smoky, wood grilled flavor.
Then there’s my latest discovery in his cookbook:
- Combine 2 parts ground ginger with 1 part sweet paprika and use to season roasted potatoes.
I just did this the other night and I still am amazed at how much I didn’t really notice the spices but instead it just tasted like the most amazing potatoes I have ever had.
This book isn’t necessarily a recipe book although there are some recipes, this is more of a reference book. This is a book that should be kept near the kitchen (although it’s photography is gorgeous enough to be a coffee table book) so that when you’re making something “basic” and want to take it up a level you can easily grab this book and get new ideas on adding that additional level of flavor to your dish.
I will add this is not a encyclopedia of spices. When you think of all the spices in the world from the root, to the stem, to the leaf, to the petal, to the stamen, to the seed, and maybe even the bark, the world of things that can be dried to flavor a recipe is immense. So in this book Lior focuses on 102 pisces that he thinks will change how you flavor food. Even if you’re not one to buy cookbooks, this is a book I think everyone who likes to cook should have, to help them elevate their skills and recipes.
At $24 on Amazon this book is worth the investment. Soon after buying this book you may just end up like me and get bitten by the spice bug, ending up with drawers, baskets and the like full of things to add amazing flavor to your everyday dishes and is that such a bad thing?
If you have a hard time finding spices he talks about here are three great sources:
Two more to note are:
For Saffron – Rumispice.com
For Salt – Jacobsensalt.com
One final thing to share is that along with the things you would think of as spices he has pages on just about every herb as well. What’s interesting is he has them dried and turned into powders to add into various dishes. I mention this because often I buy a bundle of an herb, lets say parsley, use the little I need for the recipe and then it goes beg in my fridge. Now, with my dehydrator I can dry the parsley, pulverize it in my spice grinder or with my mortar and pestle, and then use it in a whole new way without it going bad!