In Chasing Flavors, we'll explore the world through its spices. Much like Chef Marcus Samuelsson described in his book, we will explore the global palate, discover new tastes and demystify ingredients that are as common as cardamom and as out there as berbere.
The burgundy-colored sumac is common throughout the Middle East. Sold predominantly in powder form in Greek and Middle Eastern markets, it possesses a zesty, lemony quality that makes it a favorite spice for a variety of dishes.
Though used heavily in Greece, sumac's use can be traced to the Middle East, where it is more widely used. Greek cooking utilizes sumac as a rub for meats, as well as flavoring in stews and soups. Sumac is also commonly used in rice and vegetable dishes. In Arab cuisine, it often flavors hummus and is tossed with salads, while Iranians season kebab or rice with it. Turkish cuisine is similar, with sumac added to salads, kebabs and lahmacun for its elevating, brightening quality. In the past, sumac was used for its health properties. Some research shows that it is not only antimicrobial but also filled with antioxidants.
For a great pantry filler, try making a za'atar blend. This popular spice blend utilizes sumac (along with a host of other herbs) and is found throughout Middle Eastern cuisine. Once you make up your own blend, try it in this black eyed pea and za'atar dip.
Photo: Joseph Hernandez