Breathtaking botanical illustrations and photographs in a guide to the world of spices

I pretty much sprinkle the same thing on every meal. I am admittedly heavy-handed with the cayenne on my own plate and rarely stray from the variety of basils I grow in the summer or bundles of dried rosemary in winter when cooking for my family. I am much more apt to get creative with spices while baking, to savory up my sweets. Lior Lev Sercarz’s The Spice Companion has got me pretty excited to change things up.

This book is an absolute must read for anyone who likes to cook. In it, Lev Sercarz, celebrated culinary expert and master of spices, walks readers through a collection of spices chosen based on the criteria of: 1) can be found anywhere and 2) are essential in certain parts of the world. He opens with a few short essay-like chapters on his own culinary journey, the history of spices, and overviews on procuring, blending, and storing spices, all written in an inviting tone that makes the reader, no matter how novice in the kitchen or rote in their culinary routine, feel excited and encouraged to experiment with spices. They serve as thoroughly informative, enjoyable appetizers to the main course of the collection: the spices.

“Any dried ingredient that elevates food or drink is a spice,” Lev Sercarz writes. His alphabetically organized curation of spices is gorgeously photographed by Thomas Schauer, who also gives us plenty of food-porn shots spanning the lifecycle of spices (from herbs still growing to well-seasoned meals) throughout the text. The spices themselves are shot both whole and deconstructed, each with its own two-page spread. The first page of each is like a mini spice biography or encyclopedia entry, including a botanical illustration, the characteristics, origin, harvest season, and history. Schauer’s photographic spice portraits tumble across the second page, framed by factoids on traditional usage, recommended dish and spice pairings, recipe ideas, and “quick blend” recipe. There is also a great collection of 15 “Classic Spice Blends” recipes at the back of the book.

The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices
by Lior Lev Sercarz
Clarkson Potter
2016, 304 pages, 9.3 x 1.3 x 10.3 inches, Hardcover
$24 Buy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Notable Replies

  1. What is COM PANION??? Arrrrgh! Terrible widow. Sorry, pet peeve of mine. The book is worthy of desire.

  2. Yes,

  3. It made you look, though, didn’t it? It’s something that helps the book stand out and makes it memorable. I’m with you though, and I wouldn’t want my book to be memorable for the wrong reason.

    That got me thinking about the word "companion" and why they may have chosen it over other possibilities. I’m supposing they chose it for the archaic feel. Quickly asking Google, some synonyms are given:

    [one of several definitions]
    a book that provides information about a particular subject.
    synonyms: handbook, manual, guide, reference book, ABC, primer, vade mecum; informal bible ...

    But more interesting is the origin of the word:

    Middle English: from Old French compaignon, literally ‘one who breaks bread with another,’ based on Latin com- ‘together with’ + panis ‘bread.’

    So, "together with" and "bread"—perfect for a book about spicing our food!

  4. One possibility might be that they want to piggyback on the reputation of the 'Oxford Companion' series.

    (The 'Oxford Companion to Food' is my favourite food book of all time.)

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