Sumac is one of my favourite spices, so I just had to include recipes using sumac in the Marrakesh chapter of my cookbook, Delish. Sumac is an essential ingredient in Arab and especially Lebanese cooking. It is used as an acidulant (in the same way lemon juice is used or tamarind in Asian cuisine). It has a slightly aromatic, pleasantly tart, fruity taste and is astringent on the tongue like lemon. Sumac is terrific at bringing out the flavours in food, much like salt does. This is what makes it a truly versatile spice to use in seafood, lamb, chicken, vegetable and salad recipes. A real Pantry Pal!
Sumac spice is the fruit of a decorative, bushy shrub that grows to a height of about 3 metres with light grey or reddish stems. The shrub grows wild on sparsely wooded uplands and high plateaux around the Mediterranean, especially in Sicily, where it is widely cultivated. Sumac also grows in parts of the Middle East, predominantly Turkey and in its native Iran. It thrives in rocky terrain, the higher the altitude, the better the quality of the berries.
In Autumn, sumac leaves turn a gorgeous red, and the white flowers eventually develop into dense, conical clusters of fruit. The berries vary in colour from brick red to reddy brown or maroon, depending on where they come from. The berries are picked just before they are fully ripe and dried in the sun. Whole berries can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year or more. Outside the growing regions, sumac is normally only available as a course or fine powder. Stored in an airtight container, it will stay fresh for about 6 months.
If the berries are used whole, they are cracked and soaked in water for 20-30 minutes. They are then squeezed to extract all the juice. This liquid is used in marinades, salad dressings, meat and vegetable dish and even a refreshing drink. The dried ground spice can be rubbed onto food before cooking. The Lebanese and Syrians use sumac on fish, the Iraqis and Turks on vegetable dishes and the Iranians and Georgians on kebabs. In Turkish and Iranian homes, a small bowl of sumac is usually served as a seasoning on the dinner table along with a bowl of red pepper flakes.
Sumac is often sprinkled on flat breads and provides the tart in the Lebanese bread salad, fattoush. Sumac is the essential spice in the herb and spice blend za’tar. As it is such a versatile spice, feel free to experiment with fish, lamb and vegetable dishes in particular. Available as a ground spice in Asian markets and speciality shops. Sumac is becoming the ‘chi chi’ trendy spice to use, so will become more widely available.
This spice blend is used like Egyptian dukkah, to dip or sprinkle on warm bread. Traditionally served with warmed Turkish flat bread. Dip the bread in a little extra virgin olive oil then the za’tar.
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons ground sumac
¼ teaspoon salt
Grind the seeds and thyme in a grinder or with a mortar and pestle to a course texture. Stir in the sumac and salt. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. The oils in the sesame seeds deteriorate so store in a cool, dry place.
Check out recipes taken from my cookery book Delish, which is available from book stores or directly from this website
Let me know how you get on with them!