Spice it Up!

Kristina’s Bookshelf

Book reviews by Kristina Sepetys

Good quality salts, fresh spices, and a grinder are essential parts of any kitchen. They also make wonderful host or holiday gifts, and one of the following books would be a great guide to choosing and using these items. If you are near Lake Merritt in Oakland, take the opportunity to visit the charming Oaktown Spice Shop. With helpful, enthusiastic staff and wooden shelves lined with spice-filled glass jars, it’s one of my favorite places to stock up on all things spices, from standard to specialty. You’ll find dozens of different kinds of chili peppers like the ebony-colored Urfa biber of Southeast Turkey; the sweet and spicy orange piment d’ville, a Basque pepper grown locally in Boonville, California; and the dark red-hued Syrian Aleppo chili pepper. They also offer many varieties of sea salts, like black truffle and ghost chili pepper, as well as blends like zahtar, barbecue rubs, and too many others to list!

Bitterman’s Craft Salt Cooking
by Mark Bitterman
(Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016)

From Mark Bitterman, renowned salt expert and best-selling author of Salt Block Cooking and the James Beard Award–winning Salted, comes a detailed guide to enhancing your favorite foods with natural, healthful, hand-crafted salts. Find over 60 inspiring recipes like Ricotta Pancakes with Vanilla Salt; Colorado Beef Burger with Mesquite Smoked Salt and Chilies; Heritage Pork Chops with Red Salt and Black Salt Roasted Corn Relish; Salted Latte Ice Cream with Lemon Espresso Drizzle; and Lavender Salted Lemon Blondies. Learn the differences in flavor, nutrition, and sustainability between craft salt, kosher salt, iodized, and industrially manufactured sea salt. The book divides the many varieties of gourmet salts available today into seven families (fleur de sel, sel gris, flake salt, traditional salt, shio, rock salt, smoked, and infused salts) and includes a number of very detailed charts describing the vast varieties of salts and their uses. 

The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices
by Lior Lev Sercarz
(Clarkson Potter, 2016)

Lior Lev Sercarz is a chef, spice blender, and owner of La Boîte Biscuits & Spices, a spice shop and art gallery in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. His beautiful new spice guide includes hundreds of fresh ideas and tips for using pantry spices, 102 never-before-published recipes for spice blends, gorgeous photography, and breathtaking botanical illustrations. For each of the 102 curated spices profiled, Lev Sercarz provides the history and origin, information on where to buy and how to store, five traditional cuisine pairings, three quick suggestions for use (such as adding cardamom to flavor chicken broth), and a unique blend recipe to highlight each spice in the kitchen. Lovely photography and botanical illustrations make this a most useful and handsome resource.

Salt: Cooking with the World’s Most Popular Seasoning
by Valerie Aikman-Smith
(Ryland Peters & Small, 2009)

In this charming little book, cook and food stylist Valerie Aikman-Smith introduces a variety of salts, from French fleur de sel to smoked salt, and a number of recipes for using them in dishes. Try Olive Suppli and Gazpacho with Smoked Salted Croutons; Indian Spiced Lamb in a Salt Crust; Spicy Pork Satay with Roast Salted Peanut Sauce, and a number of other combinations for side dishes, breads, and desserts. A chapter on Rubs, Butters, and Brines offers dozens of ways to jazz up grilled meat or fish, vegetable crudités, or crisps.