I sometimes think that understanding why certain ingredients in a recipe are there and how they work is half the battle when cooking. Does the cocoa content make a dark chocolate bar taste better in this cookie than say, milk chocolate or semi-sweet? Would a finishing salt or using a vanilla bean really pump up the flavor? These are questions answered through experience (aka trial and error) but also by knowing the options.
New York, thanks to the many, many nationalities and ethnicities that call it home, offers a huge array of ingredients and this fall I’ve decided to explore my options and check out some of the international groceries and specialty shops around the city.
My first stop on this odyssey was La Boîte à Epice. The creation of Chef Lior Lev Sercarz; roughly translated it means "The Spice Box" and contains more than 40+ specially blended spice mixes with evocative names like N. 34 Orchidea, N. 23 Tangier, and N. 7 Pierre Poivre. The mixes are made of everything from Fleur de Sel, rose blossom, cocoa, and tea, to lemon grass, saffron, star anise, and sumac – in some cases I had never even heard of the ingredient. Fenugreek? Annatto?
I think I opened every jar on the rack and found myself both delighted and overwhelmed. I’m accustomed to using herbs and spices individually in classic combinations – basil + oregano + garlic; rosemary + thyme + lemon zest.
So, looking at a mix like N. 13 Galil, which has verbena, white cardamom, and sage I was stumped. Chef Lior to the rescue! He has written a cookbook – The Art of Blending – full of gorgeous photography and delicious recipes in collaboration with other well-known chefs and food personalities to help beginners like me. Whew!
I’m excited to make some selections with N. 33 Mishmash (crystalized honey, saffron and lemon) topping my list. I can already see my culinary horizons expanding!