The Spice Companion

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The Spice Companion, by Lior Lev Sercarz, is a book I recently discovered and ordered from Amazon. It was published in 2016.

Because of the title, I expected some information on spices, being that the author also owns a store in New York City called La Boîte, which specializes in spices and spice mixtures. But it’s seriously an encyclopedia of spices, starting with ajowan, aleppo, allspice, and amchoor, and ending with za’atar, zedoary, and zuta.

A spice, according to Mr. Sercarz, is “any dried ingredient that elevates food or drink,” so that includes coriander seeds, basil leaves, and turmeric root.

Mr. Sercarz was born and raised on a kibbutz in Israel. The history of his exposure to spice markets, and how he eventually traveled the world seeking out spices, all while his interest in cooking grew, is a story worthy of a movie. After adventuring in Columbia to “see firsthand how cardamom was grown,” he ended up at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, then moved to New York City to work at Daniel Boulud’s restaurant, Daniel.

La Boite opened in 2007 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the store has a beautiful website. It was at the website that I discovered that Mr. Sercarz has a 2012-published book called The Art of Blending.

Spice mixtures are what originally intrigued the young author with spices; chefs such as Eric Ripert utilize his custom-designed spice blends at their restaurants.

But first I must tell you about the encyclopedia part, which spans 154 pages – two per spice.

Under the name and latin name of the spice is a drawing of the plant and the part(s) used for the spice.

There is a brief description of what the spice is, its flavor and aroma, its origin, harvest season, parts of the spice/plant used, plus some more details.

On the next page is a photograph of the spice as it’s used – seeds and leaves, for example – its traditional uses, recipe ideas using the spice, and recommended pairings.

Then the author offers a blend utilizing the spice, and what to use it in or on.

This is a lot of information but helpful if you’re a cook, gardener, or just want to start making spice mixtures in your kitchen!

When I was reading through the book, I stopped at Tomato Powder as a spice. Dried tomatoes ground into a spice. Why not? I use ground paprika, which is made from peppers, so why not tomato powder made from its fruit?!!

The author describes tomato powder as “a dry, richly flavored powder made from ripe, sweet tomatoes.”

When I have a glut of ripe tomatoes during the hot summer months, I slice them and dry them in my dehydrator, and save them in the refrigerator. That way, they stay fresh, and I reconstitute them in soups and stews as needed throughout the cold months.

I happened to have a bag of dried tomatoes from last summer.

So for fun, I got out my bag and blended the tomatoes in a dry blender.

One recipe suggestion from the author is to stir tomato powder into orange juice and use it as a base for a vinaigrette with honey and olive oil. And that’s just what I did!


I used 8 ounces of orange juice, 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato powder, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 8 ounces of olive oil.

I drizzled the lettuce leaves with the dressing, and added goat cheese and walnuts.

To say it was magnificent is an understatement. Barely four hours later, I had the same salad for dinner, including a ripe avocado. I added a little white balsamic vinegar to the dressing.

There are certainly other, more exotic spices I could have experimented with from Mr. Sercarz’s book, assuming I could have even gotten my hands on some of them, but I’m really excited about tomato powder.

And the book will be a great reference for the spices I can purchase. I especially love how he makes recommendations on unique ways in which to use the spices, even common ones.

My only complaint with the book is that the photo pages are not labeled.

47 thoughts on “The Spice Companion

  1. Funnily enough we made some tomato powder last year … mostly because I over-cooked some tomatoes in the dehydrator. You’re right, it’s lovely in dressings. I keep meaning to put some into bread, as well, so thanks for the reminder! Lx

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    • You’re so smart! I’ve used it before for coloring breads like tortillas, that I would cut in to shapes like leaves, for pretty spreads back when I catered. But it provides such wonderful flavor, too! I’m definitely going to be powdering my tomatoes this summer!

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      • I’m not sure over-cooking my dried tomatoes qualifies me as smart! I think powdering them was my husband’s idea … he’s much cleverer than me so I usually appropriate his suggestions and pretend they’re mine. :) Love the idea of the flatbreads. Lx

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  2. Ok I love you. That is it. I do. DID YOU PEEK INTO MY PANTRY? I’ve got a brand new bottle of tomato powder which I bought because… because… because… I have no idea why.

    thank you

    thank you

    thank you

    I love you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahahahaha!!!!! I’ve never seen it before! I was telling Linda that when I did some “fancy” presentations a la Martha Stewart when I catered, I would make leaves/chips made from dyed tortillas that I would hand make and hand cut. What a pain. I would use everything from tomatoes to onions to beets, turmeric, and so forth. I even bought some powders, but I never thought to use them for flavor!!!! I love you too, Sally!

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  3. Hi Mimi–I was just talking about Lior’s book with a friend of mine-I’ll be going to La Boîte next week when I am in NYC. I love spices and I was sorry to miss his spice blending class in Boston at Milk Street Kitchen! Cheers!

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    • The dressing was incredible, and you’d definitely love the book. I love his suggestions for non-traditional or expected ways to use spices. Really fabulous information. Have you been to La Boite?

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      • Non-traditional uses are very Israeli, so I definitely can relate to that! :)
        I haven’t been to the store yet – though I’m sure that if it was located in a city where I’d go as a tourist, I would have visited it by now. Hopefully I’ll find the time soon. :)

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  4. Tomato powder, just brilliant and it’s been under our noses for probably hundreds of years! The dressing looks delicious, and I bet you can come up with all sorts of other uses for the powder. I do hope you’ll post more spice discoveries in the future. :)

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  5. i know about tomato powder, but have never used it. Sounds like I’ve been missing out! Great book — gives one so many ideas. :-)

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    • Definitely! I just the other day mixed orange juice with some sun-dried tomatoes in oil, plus a garlic clove, olive oil, and white balsamic vinegar, and it really tasted like the dressing made with the tomato powder!

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  6. I love tomato powder but it has a short shelf life…. I find it interesting that dried herbs are called spices….

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    • From reading his book, I think he isn’t calling, say, dried thyme a spice. But he is calling thyme a spice. He doesn’t say that everyone has to agree. And it might be just a simplification for the purpose of the book. He calls roots spices as well.

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  7. This sounds like a book that I need to buy, Mimi. The tomato powder is a great idea and using it in a vinaigrette sounds delicious. Just this morning on PBS, Rick Bayless dehydrated black garlic and made a powder that he used to finish a dish. Great minds …

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  8. Wow. SO much to love here. Really like the idea of blending the tomato powder with OJ for vinaigrettes. I use to use tomato powder when I would make homemade pasta. It added a richness to the flavor of the noodles and some great color! I remember seeing jars of dried tomatoes in olive oil in my grandmother’s refrigerator in Brooklyn. She referred to it as ‘conserve’ and added it to her pasta sauce-to this day, the best I have ever had.

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