Ingredient Spotlight: Sumac
A spice typically enhancing Middle Eastern cuisine, sumac is responsible for the lemony flavor given to so many of these notable dishes. Sumac is the purple-red powder resulting from the ground fruits of the flowering sumac plant most often grown in North America, Africa and the Middle East. It has a complex flavor combining savory and sweet with a floral aroma.
We feature this spice in our Spiced Eggplant Steaks with Lemon-Garlic Couscous, but it can also be found in a myriad of other recipes in which you may not have known it existed. Find it as a garnish to hummus or added to Iranian kebab. It is also a component of the za'atar spice mixture of Arab cuisine. Sumac can be worked into dry rubs or marinades or provides added flavor to vegetables. This spice is also ideal for dusting over cooked food to add color and finishing flavor (similar to squeezing fresh lemon juice over a dish!).
The berries from which sumac spice is ground have healing power all their own. They have traditionally been used for their diuretic qualities to ease an upset digestive system and even reduce fever. Some cultures make a drink from these berries to aid discomfort. These sumac berries are also rich in antioxidants.
Not all sumac is created equal, however. The Rhus genus consists of the edible species that are the source of sumac spice, but it also contains the poison sumac variety. The major difference between these plants is that poison sumac has white berries whereas the other varieties have red. Purchasing sumac from a reputable supplier is therefore a necessity!