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.
The edible sumac is a great substitute for lemon or vinegar because of its agreeably astringent taste. Sometimes, the fresh sumac berries are steeped in hot water then mashed to release the juice of the berry, which is used to flavor sauces and salad dressings, or to perk up beverages such as tea or fruit drinks. Sumac is also added to yogurt and herbs that makes for an exotic, tangy, sauce that is traditionally served with kebabs or falafel.
We love using sumac spice for flavoring soup, meat, vegetables and legumes, especially lentils, white beans, and chickpeas. Or sometimes we simply use it instead of salt and pepper; tastes great sprinkled on salads.
I cant give enough great compliments to this wonderful spice, but I will say this, sumac is a must have in your spice collection. You will be amazed at how much you will come to rely on sumac once you have tried it.
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