Sumac

Sumac

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

When it comes to food, a defining characteristic of Middle Easterners is their love of sour flavours. Lemons, pomegranates and sumac are all used extensively to add a refreshing tartness to dishes. Of these three, sumac, which has a lovely lemony flavour and is a pretty dark-red colour, is virtually unknown outside the Middle East.

Sumac is usually purchased as a coarse powder. It is ground from the dried berries of a shrub which grows widely all around the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. Sumac is particularly popular in Lebanon and Syria, but it is also used in Iran, Iraq and Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries.

In Iran and Iraq sumac is used mainly as a tangy seasoning for sprinkling over kebabs – Iranian restaurants will nearly always set it on the table as a condiment to accompany grilled meats. Elsewhere, sumac is used in marinades – its tangy flavour works well with grilled meats, poultry and fish. It is often added to vinaigrettes and other dressings, or added to salads such as the refreshing bread salad fattouche. In Lebanon, sumac’s greatest use is in the ubiquitous spice mix za’atar, in which it is combined with thyme and sesame seeds and used as a topping for fabulous freshly baked breads.

Selecting, storing and using sumac

You will have to visit a specialist Middle Eastern grocer to find sumac, but it is worth tracking down. Compared with other spices and herbs it is sold in confusingly large quantities (usually 250 g) but it is far from being expensive and keeps very well in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard.

Sumac is a pretty deep red-brown colour, rather like rich loamy soil, with a sour, salty flavour. When you use it in Middle Eastern recipes, it is often a good idea to wash it in a little water first – heap it into a tea-strainer and run it under the cold tap for a few minutes. This helps to intensify the flavour even further.

Recipes in this Chapter

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