Sumac

bring some zing and colour to your dishes

This gorgeous illustration of Sumac and Frank is by my friend Katya, you can find her on IG Honestly Green

A sweltering hot sweaty hello, 

Has it been boiling hot and awfully unequipped where you are for the past week or so? Yeah, I thought so. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with air standing still and hot, making me lose my breath. The only relief is a cooling spray in the middle of the night, laying still waiting for the fan to make its way round to you, praying you can fall back asleep. 

But anyway, I really hope that by the time it lands in your inbox, we all get a decent amount of rain, have a good night’s sleep and get to cool down. Heat is hard work, heat in the UK during the work hours is extra hard work. 

Now, let me get to business. If this is your first time reading, welcome! If you’ve come back - a million times thank you! Let’s look at Sumac and its uses. I’ll admit, sumac was an easy pick. It’s a regular in my spice drawer and I use it a fair bit. Mostly because I cook a lot of recipes from Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbooks (think straight forward and easily achievable flavour bombs). But sometimes I like to experiment and add sumac on the whim. Sometimes for flavour (light acidity, clean slightly sharp cut) or sometimes for vanity - a beautiful bright sprinkle of zingy spice. 

This submission is from Ash (thanks for picking my favourite ingredient!) and I know for a fact that few other of my friends will find this useful as they have jars of sumac collecting dust. Have a read, enjoy and let me know what you think. 

ABOUT SUMAC

So what is Sumac? Sumac is any one of about 35 species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus and related genera, in the family Anacardiaceae. It grows in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in East Asia, Africa, and North America (source: good old Google). 

Sumac grows on shrubs and small trees and it looks quite striking out in the wild. When Katya and I were planning this issue, we googled what Sumac looks like before it ends up in a jar. We were blown away by how stunning it is. 

It’s widely used in cooking across the Middle East, Africa and some Mediterranean regions. In the last 10-15 years, it travelled to the U.K. and gained its popularity thanks to Ottolenghi, Sabrina Ghayour, John Gregory-Smith and many other chefs helping us explore exciting flavours of Middle East and further away. 

In Iran, sumac is used as a table condiment on par with salt and pepper. In Arab cuisine, it is used as a garnish on meze dishes such as hummus and Tashi, it is also commonly added to falafel. Syria uses the spice also, it is one of the main ingredients of Kubah Sumakieh in Aleppo of Syria, it is added to salads in the Levant, as well as being one of the main ingredients in the Palestinian dish Mussakhan. In Afghan, Armenian, Bangladeshi, Indian, Iranian, Mizrahi, and Pakistani cuisines, sumac is added to rice or kebabs. In Armenian, Azerbaijani, Central Asian, Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese and Turkish cuisines, it is added to salads, kebabs and lahmajoun. 

‘‘You’ll know it as a souring agent that’s an excellent substitute for lemon or vinegar, and is great to use on kebabs, fish or chicken. It’s been used to add tangy, fresh flavours in Lebanese, Syrian, Armenian, and Iranian cooking for many millennia, and you could not walk through a street food marketplace of centuries past (even today) without seeing it everywhere around you.’’ Tenny Avanesian, an Armenian American Food Entrepreneur 

Sumac is considered a superfood (eye roll, don’t get me started on superfoods). Sumac has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s packed with antioxidants and can neutralise free radicals that can cause cancer, heart disease and signs of ageing. Some studies also suggest that daily intake of sumac for 3 months can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease among people with type 2 diabetes. It used to be widely used for medicinal purposes and in some places still continues to do so. 

QUICK SUGGESTIONS FOR USE:

  • One thing I discovered recently is that sumac pairs BEAUTIFULLY with courgettes, so seeing as courgettes and all types of little soft skinned squashes are in season, get in there! Stir sumac through your fried courgettes and pasta. Top off with a bit of your favourite cheese. 

  • Make veggie fritters and add sumac to cut through the frying oil. 

  • Aubergines and sumac are a match made in heaven: baba ghanoush, fried aubergines, roasted aubergines. Aubergine butter anyone? 

  • Elevate your morning eggs with a sprinkling of sumac. 

  • Don’t have lemon juice? Add sumac, it’ll provide subtle gentle acidity. I love lemon but sometimes I find it’s tang too sharp and brutal, overpowering the whole dish. Sumac will never do that to you. Similarly, if you're making a dish that requires vinegar, you can add sumac to add a bit of extra soft acidity. 

  • If you’re a big fan of lamb, sumac is PERFECT for marinating lamb chops or stirring through lamb mince. It’ll cut through the fattiness which sometimes can be so heavy to digest. 

  • Sumac is pretty. That’s it. Keep it in your cupboard for vanity reason, to add gorgeous colour to your dishes. Batters, cakes, salads, curries, any other dish that can take on colour. It’ll make it look stunning. 

  • Sprinkle it on your houmous, falafel and loaves of bread (the thought of sumac adorned bubbly focaccia is making my mouth water!) 

  • If you like salty cheese, try sprinkling some sumac over and enjoy new dimensions of flavour. 

  • It works great with fish, white flakey fish will take on the zingy flavour. Whereas, oily, more flavourful varieties can benefit from the addition of refreshing acidity. 

  • I am a huge fan of beans and bean-based salads. I normally start with a light coloured bean variety, a fresh finely chopped allium (red onion/spring onion/shallot) followed by a simple dressing (2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tsp vinegar, 1 teaspoon sumac, salt and pepper to taste) you can also add some heat with chilli flakes of your choice. Mix, dress, leave to stand for a bit. (I am sorry, friends, that you’re forced to eat every time we get together). 

  • Desserts. Yes, it will work in desserts, cakes, cookies. It’ll pair perfectly with berries, stone fruit, rose, almonds and lots more. And it just looks stunning swirled through cakes. 

  • Make an easy yoghurt dip by adding some garlic, sumac, salt and pepper. It’s light and refreshing, perfect for BBQs and meaty dinners. 

  • You can also drink it! And I am definitely going to try out this recipe ASAP: Pink Lemonade.

  • A great thing to note about sumac is that it's mostly added at the end of the cooking process, it doesn’t need heat to release its flavour. So even if you forget to add it at the beginning, you can sprinkle it right at the end. 

Even more recipes to use up your sumac: 

Google search returns over 3,000,000 results of sumac recipes, so you should never be stuck for ideas to use it up.

RECIPE OF THE WEEK

Raspberry, Sumac & Rose Madeleines 

The only sucky thing about the madeleines is the fact that you’re supposed to leave the batter in the fridge for at least 4 hours to chill. But even if you don’t, they’ll still work and will be delicious. These madeleines got an ‘mmmm’ from my other half who’s really into chocolate desserts, so it’s a breakthrough. These squidgy, tender, sweet and tangy madeleines are best eaten warm straight out of the oven. Don’t wait. I was going to wait for them to cool,, decorate them. Forget all that, they don’t need any of it.  

Rose flavour is completely optional, so don’t feel like you have to go out and look for rose water (therefore adding another ingredient to your shelves). 

Makes 16 

Ingredients: 

  • 160g butter, melted

  • 2 eggs

  • 140g caster sugar

  • 17g honey

  • 82g plain flour

  • 5g baking powder

  • 1 TBSP sumac 

  • 75g raspberries, berries broken up into smaller clusters (avoid whole berries in batter) 

  • 1 tsp rose water or extract (optional) 

  • Icing sugar (optional) 

Method: 

  1. Beats the eggs and sugar either by hand or in a mixer. 

  2. Add the butter and the honey, mix well. 

  3. Mix flour and baking powder and add to the batter. 

  4. Now add sumac, raspberries (avoid the juices) and rose water. 

  5. Leave to rest for 4 hours or more. 

  6. Preheat the oven to 200C (fan). Butter the madeleine tray, and dust with flour.

  7. Spoon out a small amount of mixture into each bit (it might be easier to use two spoons or an ice cream scoop). You need it to be filled about 2/3 with batter. 

  8. Bake for 8-12 minutes. Keep an eye on them, they need to get slightly brown on top. Resist the temptation to open the oven to check on them. Watch through the glass.

  9. Take out of the oven and gently shake them out of the tray onto a clean surface. 

Truth to be told, I made twice as much batter and completely messed up the first batch by overfilling the tray. But that’s cool because you don’t need to repeat my mistakes. 

Also, if you don’t have a madeleine tray, don’t worry. Make mini cupcakes (baking time will be slightly longer) and make some rose water/an or raspberry buttercream to go on top. 

WHERE TO BUY

Sumac is gaining popularity and the majority of supermarkets now have it in stock. Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, M&S you name it. You definitely won’t be able to get any in Lidl or Aldi (but did anyone ever manage to complete their whole weekly shop there?). I, however, prefer to venture out and go to International Delis (deli is actually a bit of a strong word here). It’s an ex Co-op owned by a Turkish family who stock all sorts of treats from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. You can get a good amount of spice for very decent money. And its quality is excellent. If you don’t have a suitable shop near you, here's an online stockist Sous Chef (also known as a black hole where a lot of my money goes). 

If you buy a bag (rather than a jar), make sure you transfer your spice into a sealed jar to retain the freshness. 

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN

If you’re reading this in the UK, it’s impossible as we don’t have the correct variety growing in the UK so stick to the shops and don’t just yet get into foraging your own sumac. 

Who to follow: Heifa on IG

Cookbook to explore: Saffron in the Souks, Hibiscus (learn how Sumac is used in Nigerian cooking) + any and every book by Sabrina Ghayour 

A podcast to listen to: In Defence of Plants 

To watch: 59 seconds of heaven with Nigel Slater 

An ode to Sumac: Whatever you do, do not disrespect Sumac tree 

This has been so much fun! And I can wait to get stuck into the next week’s research. I hope you found this issue useful and are now full of ideas to use up your stash. Or maybe you will go out to get some fresh sumac and start adding it to your dishes and bakes and make them zing! 

As always, I welcome feedback and further suggestions for research! 

Anya xx 

Coming up next week: star anise (I know, right?!)