Let Jaffa Owner Yaniv Cohen Be Your Spice Guide

The Spice Detective's cookbook.
The Spice Detective's cookbook. Yaniv Cohen
Yaniv Cohen wants you to get out of your spice comfort zone.

Miami's "Spice Detective" and owner of Jaffa at St. Roch Market in the Design District wants people to explore the wide world of spices, especially those popular in the Middle East, such as cumin, turmeric, za'atar, and baharat — a blend that includes allspice, ground black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and paprika. "You use a little of that in a dish, and it makes it instantly aromatic," Cohen says.

The challenge, of course, is how to use all of those bright, exotic spices at home. Cohen has outlined his favorites and detailed ways to use them in his new book, My Spiced Kitchen. Cohen calls it a "spice guide," whose 15 chapters are each dedicated to one spice. "We break down the history, region, and aromas of each spice. We talk about the medicinal properties and then go into the cooking part." For each spice, Cohen has included a few recipes meant to form a framework. Once home chefs are comfortable, he encourages them to experiment with spices. "We start by making it easy to cook with spices so they can experiment later on."

One great spice to work with, Cohen says, is cumin. "You add a little bit to a dish, say tomato sauce or meatballs, and the cumin takes it to another level. It colors your food in a different way, and the aroma takes you to Africa."

Another trick is to brighten an everyday mac 'n' cheese with za'atar and feta cheese, or add coriander to stir-fry.

Cohen encourages the curious to visit a spice store or a spice vendor at a farmers' market. "If you go to a spice store, you can smell and taste the spice. You need to get familiar with the aroma and the flavor and ask what the spice pairs best with." He says some go better with vegetables, some for meat. And some spices respond differently to heat. "Some spices are best when they're added to a sauce early, some are better in the end, and some don't need heat at all." All of these guidelines, the chef and author says, are outlined in the book.

Cohen also recommends people read labels when buying spices. "Some mass-produced spice companies add MSG, so make sure there are no additives." He also recommends storing spices in a cool space, out of sunlight and heat — Cohen stores them in the freezer.

To try a variety of spices and get some tips from the Spice Detective, stop by Cohen's celebration of his book release this Thursday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at St. Roch Market, where he will prepare recipes from the book. General admission is free, and VIP admission ($19.95) includes a copy of his cookbook and specialty cocktails from the Mayhaw.

"We're going to have beef kibbe, spiced pita, and a belly dancer," Cohen says of what sounds like the makings of a spicy party. "We'll also have spices for people to experience, taste, smell, and savor."

My Spiced Kitchen Book Launch. 7 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, August 15, at Jaffa at St. Roch Market, 140 NE 39th St., Miami; 786-542-8977; Admission is free; VIP tickets cost $19.95 via and include a copy of My Spiced Kitchen.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss