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.

Orange-Glazed Beets

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I happen to love beets. But I didn’t always. When I first tasted them, they tasted like dirt to me. Not that I really know what dirt tastes like, mind you. But they have a real earthiness to them that you almost have to force yourself to embrace, sort of like learning to love beer.

There’s nothing quite like the simplicity of roasted beets. They’re sweet and tender. But today I roasted them and then glazed them, with spectacular results.

The original recipe is from a cookbook called The New California Cook, by Diane Rossen Worthington, published in 2006.
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I’m basically a California girl at heart. I’ve lived many different places in my life, both growing up and since marrying. But there’s just something about California. And that’s what the recipes in this book are about. Here’s a quote from the introduction:

“You don’t have to live in California to be a California cook – what you do need is a California spirit.”

The recipe for orange-glazed beets caught my attention because as I said, I love beets. I’ve roasted them, and pickled them, but never glazed them, so I knew I had to try this. It’s a little more involved recipe, because I made it a little more difficult by adding an extra step. I wanted to roast the beets first, which after-the-fact, didn’t really make a difference.

Orange-Glazed Beets
adapted from The New California Cook

3 medium-sized beets
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the stems of the beets. Place the beets in a foil-lined roasting pan. Two of the beets were larger than the third, so I sliced them in half, to make them more uniform in size.
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Drizzle them with a little olive oil, about 3 tablespoons. Season with salt and pepper.
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Cover the whole baking dish with foil, and bake the beets for about 30 minutes.

Remove the foil and roast the beets for 15-20 minutes. They’re not completely tender at this point, but I didn’t want them cooked thoroughly before I went through the glazing process, which cooks the beets further.
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Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool.
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Meanwhile, combine the chicken stock, orange juice and balsamic vinegar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a light boil, and let reduce for about 15 minutes or so.


When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the peels. I do this by rubbing the skins with paper towels. If all of the peel won’t come off, finish with a peeler. Some people wear gloves handling beets, because your fingers will turn red. But it’s not permanent.
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Slice the beets into lengthwise wedges or, if you prefer, horizontal slices. It depends what shape you want.
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Place the beets into the liquid and maintain a soft simmer. Pour all of the remaining liquid from the roasted beets into the saucepan.
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Continue simmering, occasionally spooning the liquid over the beets, if they are not completely submerged. The liquid will reduce and become a glaze.
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Add the butter, stir in, then remove the saucepan from the stove.
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The original recipe calls for added chopped parsley, but I omitted that. You can taste for salt.

These beets are a lovely side dish. Today I paired them with a pesto-crusted pork tenderloin, and it was a perfect combination. The beets would also be lovely on a composed salad.
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verdict: Delicious! As I mentioned, I don’t think the roasting step improved the beets ultimate flavor and texture, so that step can easily be omitted. Simply peel and chop/slice the beets, and simmer them in liquid. You will have to double up on the liquid ingredients, however, since the whole process will take about 45 minutes before the raw beets become tender.

note: I will make these beets again in the fall, with some apple cider and maple syrup. They really are fabulous glazed!