Rediscovering Sumac

Sumac, ground: Related to the pistachio, no wonder I love it!

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Some of my favorite flavors come from the Middle East. I don’t think I’ve ever  had anything that didn’t taste good from the region!  Haven’t had these flavors in ages.

Ever had Za’atar? It’s a  delicious combination of flavors, used in various cuisines, each expressing a unique version, while maintaining a similar base of sumac, herbs, sesame seeds, and salt. Can make most ANYthing taste gourmet- delicious.

It all starts with the amazing little berry that is…sumac. Bursting with flavor, this little fruit contributes a flavor complexity to your dishes. I had all but forgotten about sumac since I started my simple way of eating — how sad!  It is tart, with a lemony flavor, and slightly salty-ish and used as a substitute for citrus and vinegar; but it has that something special that makes it unique.

Use it in place of lemon or tamarind. Also, note that a lot salt substitutes use lemon or citrus in their formulas.Try using it in your favorite home-prepared salt substitute or storebought herbal. It brightens up any mixture 🙂

Of course, on its own, sumac brings out lots of flavor in your dishes 🙂

BUT

Sumac-package

Yes, there is a “but,” unfortunately. Sumac, without added salt is a real challenge to find. Why add salt to an already salty spice? A couple reasons — for preservation: Sumac loses potency very quickly; salt helps to preserve it in the form of a dried spice. Another reason is to keep it from clumping during the processing of the berries; it also extends storage life.

Okay, now why such a challenge? Well, for starters, the kind found in ME markets (like the package above)  are not labeled with an ingredients list. I would suggest that one should assume it contains salt.  It usually does. But those packages are very inexpensive — below a dollar, usually — so may be worth trying. To further complicate things — How to tell if an already-salty-tasting spice has salt added?! It’s very close to impossible, unless you taste truly unsalted at the same time or have a very keen taste for added salt, which can be tricky!

On the plus side, the sumac purchased from Middle Eastern sources are not over-the-top salty, and using it in your mixture would not add a lot of sodium to your finished dish.

However, the best way to know is to buy whole sumac berries and, yep, crush them yourself. Okay, easy enough…hm, not really: If ground sumac is hard to find, the whole berries are even harder. Still worth a look at the markets or specialty-foods sections, though.

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Now for the good news,

Sumac-Berries_whole (12)

Aren’t sumac berries gorgeous!

After wasting what seemed like hours emailing and e-searching for salt-free, pure sumac — ground and/or berries — guess where I found it?

Sumac-Berries_whole (20)

MOUNTAIN ROSE HERBS, for goodness sakes! Well, DUH! I’m forever rambling about MRH — they are referred here a zillion times over, and yet, I failed to look there FIRST, like I usually do…heh. Silly me. 😉

Sumac-leafWell,  they have both the ground sumac and the whole berries, and, for good measure, the dried leaves — all salt-free. Never even knew about the leaves, but am looking forward to using them in lots experiments; soups are a no-brainer.

World Spices also has no-salt added ground sumac — confirmed via email inquiry — but it is not organic. Remember, too, that you just may find sumac tucked away in a gourmet-type, or specialty foods store or section; but know it is available, organic, without additives or preservatives via a reputable source: Mountain Rose Herbs.

As always, keeping within Dr. Fuhrman’s recommendations for added salt to the diet would be best; but you may want to buy one little package of sumac just to taste test (they are usually under $1), if you don’twant to haul off and buy a package of sumac berries 😉

SO,

with that difficulty resolved…

It is exceptional in beans — any bean dish! Test it on a portion of your favorite hoummus or other beany creation.

ful-mudammas (8)

Soupy Ful Madammas

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Here is one of my favorite ways to use sumac — in za’atar, of course! You can add/tweak as you like, or according to how you prefer your za’atar; it varies from region to region as well as from taste buds to taste buds!

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Za'atar_My_fini (11)

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ZA’ATAR

2 TB ground Sumac

1 TB Thyme, whole, dry leaves

1 TB Sesame Seeds, raw, hulled

Pulse to a med-course powder, the 1 TB sesame, making sure not to cream it. I used my small personal blender with the flat blade; a coffee grinder or similar appliance will work.

Add the thyme and sumac and pulse @ 5 or so times to combine and break up the thyme a bit, but not powder it.

Store in a glass jar with a tight lid. I use an old spice jar.

Variations: …are endless! a few common are to use some oregano, marjoram, or savory in place of OR in addition to the thyme.

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Za’atar ingredients. Fresh or dried thyme can be used.

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Pulse-grind sesame seeds to a meal, taking care not to butter it.
Pulse-grind sesame seeds to a meal, taking care not to butter it.

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Combine thyme, sumac, and optional black pepper
Combine thyme, sumac, and optional black pepper

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Add spices to the sesame meal; pulse to combine
Add spices to the sesame meal; pulse to combine

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Enjoy! :^)
Enjoy! :^)

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Here is how I enjoyed za’atar recently: (Miss Olives? You don’t have to 😉 Click here)

Za'atar_Olives

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Za’atar Olives:

1 garlic, clove (see note on prep)

2 tsp za’atar

2 t – 1 TB fresh lemon juice, or to taste

blackpepper, to taste, optional

12 unsalted raw olives

Directions:

Pit olives or smash (see pic).

Toss well with lemon juice and galic (note: you can use slivers or slices, if you don’t want minced, raw garlic all over your olives); alternatively, maybe some lightly roasted or carmelized garlic would be nice.

Add the za’atar and toss lightly till thoroughly covering the olives.

Cover with a lid and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours to marinate.

Eat!

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If you want to leave the pit in, then give each olive a good whack with the side of a sturdy knife to break up the olive innards to release flavor as well as allow the flavors to permeate…like so:

IMG_0009_9

then toss as per directions. Otherwise you can pit them all like so…

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IMG_0011_11

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Toss in the ingredients; Marinate:

za'atar_olives_marinate (2)

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And devour ;)!

These are utterly delicious; you feel deceptively decadent eating these morsels of olivicious goodness! These feel like they’ve been soaked in the best olive oil, yet not a drop of oil added — only the fruit’s own natural oils.

I’ve rambled about my love of these olives: Give a looksee ;^)

Interestingly, I found that, like most marinaded foods, the flavor improved with time, but they also mellowed. In other words, the potency (think the garlic punch) lessened, but the flavor developed. Either way they are delish. Something to note anyway, just in case you find you may have added too much garlic, it will mellow over the next day and longer. So don’t worry 🙂 You can use thicker cuts or slices of garlic, if you want to be able to remove them.

Also, za’atar mixture (stored)  has a bad habit of losing flavor quickly, so make in small amounts. For this olive recipe, it preserves quite well. I imagine it is the natural oils — I guess there is quite enough in the olives — which acts as the preservative, the same as covering with a load of oil would. The lemon helps too.

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Here’s an idea:

garbanzo-beans_za'atar-spiceFul Za’atar

Toss heated home-cooked fava beans, garbanzo beans, a combo (or baby limas are a fantastic substitute in a pinch) in a little bit of their broth with lemon juice; za’atar; add garlic, if desired. Let sit at room temperature till ready to eat – flavor improves as it marinates. Serve cold or room temperature. Add chopped parsley, (add a bit of fresh thyme or oregano, optional; can add chopped tomatoes and/or onions, too) before serving.

OR

“Toast” in your oven at 248-degrees or below (to avoid acrylamide formation) OR, my preference,  dehydrate cooked garbanzo beans, tossed in their broth, some lemon or lime, and the za’atar spices (and garlic if you like) for some healthy, crunchy no-fat, no-oil, no-salt needed, no-acrylamides Garbanzo Nuts!

Crunchy-Yum Garbanzo Nuts

Crunchy-Yum Garbanzo Nuts

OR…Add za’atar to any soup as a topping, or mix in (sort of like Italians add pesto to soups). It changes ordinary soups into something special.

~ The limits are defined by your imagination ;^) ~

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For dinner guests, I utililzed sumac: For example, lentil, and green chips; leafy salad; soup; fava hoummus; some bean “flatbread”; cucumber mint salad; Rose spiked sumac-ade (aka “sumac lemonade”); and Figs in Spiced Syrup. For me? Well, a giant ETL salad is enough; but I also like  simple side dishes, such as prepared mushrooms or olives, etc. ;); But, you can make most any style of eating you or your family likes nutrient-dense or ETL-ish with just a little bit of effort.

Here are a few pics of some preparations:

One popular way to enjoy sumac is to make a refreshing “lemonade-ish” drink. I haven’t had the fortune to taste this with fresh berries, which is purported to be the best; however, the dried is also employed. I like it well enough 🙂 It doesn’t taste like anything else, but if I had to give a likening, I’d say it would remind you of Agua de Jamaica, (Jamaica flower tea), aka, “Habiscus” tea/drink, and would make a wonderful substitute or change. It is has the traits of unsweetened cranberry juice — tart but fruity. I’ve added it to my GJGS‘s… too.

(simply crush or pulse-grind the berries…

add water and       soak in water…


Strain…


… add sweetener, a few slices of lime, – ooh, a knob of ginger! —  and serve! Chunks of chopped fruit and you have a delicious ETL Sangria ;).

*Cucumber-Mint Salad with Orange

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Lentil Chips

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Za’atar spiced Olives with Lime and Mint

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No-grain “Flatbread”

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fig-dessert_my_fini (9)

Turkish Figs in Spiced “Syrup”

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fig-dessert_my_fini (18)

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This was a thoroughly ETL meal, simple, but with more than enough authenticity.

Make your nutrient-dense food GOOD. It can be done!

Pick up an inexpensive bag of sumac  and give it a try 🙂

Poxacuatl
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3 Comments

  1. Tes said,

    May 31, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I love reading about different food in different coutures. The information about various exotic ingredients always interest me. I enjoy reading your post. Thanks for sharing.

    • poxacuatl said,

      May 31, 2010 at 10:08 am

      Hi. I like reading (and seeing!) about various ingredients. I also find it amazing how food is so ingrained into all cultures with meaning, and not just as sustanance.

      Welcome! And thanks for stopping by, Tess :^)

  2. September 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    […] Onions, Garlic, whole Sumac berries […]


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