The varied cuisine of the Middle East has garnered worldwide recognition for its exceptional flavors of aromatic herbs and spices; and is also considered to be some of the healthiest food to consume.
Most dishes are grilled or baked rather than fried, and use olive oil in place of fatty butter and lard. And knowing just how much spice and herbs to use, and what kind, comes from an innate sense of skill and knowledge that was handed-down from generation to generation.
One particular spice that is most common in Middle Eastern recipes, and is one of my favorites, is sumac. This pungent spice is made of dried, crushed red berries from the sumac bush (not to be confused with the poisonous sumac plant which is similar to poison ivy). The sumac bushes grow in the wild all across the Mediterranean region and in parts of the Middle East. The poisonous sumac plant grows almost everywhere in the United States, except Hawaii, Alaska, and some desert areas in the southwest. The poisonous variety has smooth leaves and spaced out white berries, whereas the edible sumac has tightly clustered red berries with jagged leaves. Continue reading