Cooking with spices is an art form. Used well, they will elevate the humblest of ingredients to something sublime. Use them poorly, and they’ll turn the most flavorful heirloom into an inedible mess. Perhaps that ‘s why so many of us avoid using many spices altogether – surely the wimpiest of cop-outs. “It bothers me how people say, ‘Oh, I don’t use spices or I don’t like spices or I don’t like spicy food,’ ” says Lior Lev Sercarz, author of ‘The Art of Blending.’ “But I think that all just comes from a lack of knowledge.”
Few people on this planet are better suited than Sercarz to be the ambassador to the world of spices. Sercarz was raised on a kibbutz near Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, had his first significant experience with cooking as a sergeant in the Israeli Defense Forces, and then went on to work at Michelin-starred restaurants in France’s northern region of Brittany and in New York City. He has since founded La Boîte, a tiny spice shop in New York that offers more than 40 original blends.
Besides making otherwise ordinary foods taste exotic, spices are great for those unhappy with the small portions or monotony of their diets. “Spices allow you to reduce sodium and sugar in food because you’ve substituted them with flavor and spice,” Sercarz says. “It’s been proven that food that tastes better, you’ll eat less of it. You don’t need to eat a pound of something in order to be satisfied.” We asked Sercarz to guide us through the basics of cooking with spices, and he shared the following seven tips with us.
A couple of basics before we begin: Note that spices, pungent aromatics, are dried seeds, barks, roots, or fruits that are often sold in powder form; whereas herbs are the leaves and stems, fresh or dried, of aromatic plants. Here, we discuss Sercarz’s artful take on spices.