A few years back the New York Times ran an article about Lior Lev Sercarz, a professional chef who hails originally from Israel and has honed his professional skills in the kitchens of France and New York. What was striking about his story, though, was that Chef Lev Sercarz veered off the usual professional chef path and drilled down into the world of spices, eventually making a name for himself among professional chefs as a kind of spice magician.
It was his proprietary blend of spices that caught on and after much study and years of experimentation, Lev Sercarz eventually opened La Boîte, a storefront in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, in 2006 to sell his spice blends to the rest of us. He sells 41 unique blends with names like Reims, Cancale, or Sri Lanka that give you a culinary hint before you even look at the ingredients. He also sells a smattering of individual spices (all of which can be purchased online).
Now you can peek into the backstage world of his spice magic with his new book, The Spice Companion: A Guide To The World Of Spices. The book is a stunning and definitive spice guide by the country’s most sought-after expert, with hundreds of fresh ideas and tips for using pantry spices, 102 never-before-published recipes for spice blends, gorgeous photography, and breathtaking botanical illustrations.
“I wrote this book because I have found that most people know relatively little about spices: where they are from, how they grow, what they look like in their natural environment, how labor intensive it is to harvest many of them, and, ultimately, how to use them and be inspired by them in the kitchen,” says Lev Sercarz.
Lev Sercarz says he selected 102 curated spices, some exotic and unknow, but many that people already have in their pantries. For each spice, Lev Sercarz provides:
- The history and origin
- Information on where to buy and how to store it
- Five traditional cuisine pairings
- Three quick suggestions for use (such as adding cardamom to flavor chicken broth)
- A unique spice blend recipe to highlight it in the kitchen
Sumptuous photography and botanical illustrations of each spice make this must-have resource—which also features debossing on the front cover, an orange-stained book edge, and a silver ribbon marker—as beautiful as it is informative.
All-in-all The Spice Companion makes a wonderful addition to any serious cook’s library, just be prepared to make some mistakes along the way—which, if you are a serious cook, you are already used to doing.
“If you think of spices as what’s in those jars that have been in your pantry for the last decade, think again. With Lior Lev Sercarz’s guide, you’ll want to roast and grind your own—and you’ll wonder why you never did before! I can practically smell his amazing spice blends just reading this book,” says chef and Food Network star Ina Garten.
Chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi says, “Spices can often be the unsung heroes of the kitchen. They are given the full orchestra here, and the results are bright and loud. This is a book I’ll be reaching for often.”
Here’s one example of his spice blend recipes using Marjoram:
QUICK BLEND MARJOLAINE
Season fresh-cut baby turnips with a bit of this blend and finish with olive oil and orange juice for an herbaceous salad or side dish. It also adds a welcoming sharpness to pizzas and pastas.
Makes about 1/3 cup
½ cup dried marjoram leaves, ground
1 Tbs. dried mint leaves, ground
½ Tbs. white sesame seeds, toasted
1 2/3 tsp. fennel seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
Scant ½ tsp. crushed Aleppo chiles, or mild chile flakes