When I see, touch and sense the aroma of sumac, it brings back many childhood memories, particularly that of lazy Sunday afternoons when dad was hovering around the kitchen making jokes while mom was concocting her legendary kebab feast. There always was a melody in the atmosphere whether it was the music emanating from a tape deck (no there were no ipods/CDs back then!) or the voice of my folks humming an Armenian tune. I remember lots of laughter, lots of hugging, kissing, playing and the air always full with love. Mom always talked about, what I’ve come to know as Chi, the energy transferred to food during the prep/mise en place stage. One must be happy for the food to taste its best, she used to always say. Sumac has always remained me of this happy scene, its tart flavors and the variety of usages in mom’s unprecedented culinary concoctions…part of my best memories growing up.
Sumac’s purple-red powder is made from crushed berries that originate from the bushes that grow wild in most Mediterranean areas like Italy and in the Middle East, notably Iran. An absolute essential ingredient in the cuisine of these lands, sumac, in some dishes is preferred over lemons, tamarind or vinegar for its slightly aromatic bouquet combined with its sour, fruity and astringent flavors.
Pairing it simply sprinkled over barbequed chicken, dusting sea bass fillets for a quick oven-broil, utilizing it in salad dressing, and marinades, the usage of Sumac is quite diversified. Here are some recipes that I’ve adapted from mom’s cryptic recipe notes that I’ve treasured over the years. Sumac is part of my heritage and even to this day, Sunday barbeques would not be the same without the playful laughter, the jokes, the love, hugs, and kisses and my husband’s generous dusting of sumac over his pile of basmati rice and lulé beef kebabs. Old world tradition meets new world tradition in a tasty passage over time.
Sumac, onion and parsley relish
1 large Vidalia or red onion, thinly sliced
½ bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 tbsp sumac, or more to taste
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Mix all ingredients together, adjust and season to taste. Allow salad to rest for 1 hour to better infuse flavors. Great served as a side salad with basmati rice, chicken, beef, lamb or pork. Also combines well with grilled vegetables!
Variation: You can toss sweet cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and cured black olives in this salad to add a Mediterranean twist!
* You can find sumac at your local specialty Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food stores.
2lb lean ground beef
1 onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, de-germed, grated
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp sumac
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp Aleppo pepper – can sub it with paprika
¼ cup bread crumbs, or as needed
Mix it all ingredients, then shape them as you wish – skewer them, make lulé shapes (as pictured in this post), make patties – whatever you like – fridge them covered for at least 30 minutes or overnight, this marinates the mixture and promotes deeper flavor infusion.
Grilling them is of course the classic and preferred method. Barring that options, you can also roast them. Preheat oven to 4300F. Place an oven-proof roasting rack over parchment-lined sheet pan (this will catch the dripping oil) into the oven for at least 30 minutes to get it nice and hot. When ready, place the lule kebabs directly on the roasting rack (you’ll immediately hear the sear sound). Turn them over halfway during roasting, and roast until lule kebabs are sizzling and golden.
Serve alongside the classic side dishes – basmati rice, pita, zhazhikh, sumac-onion-parsley relish, roasted veggies, tabboulé, fresh herbs or anything else your palate calls for.
1 cup yogurt
1/3 cup cucumber, small dice
3 garlic cloves, de-germed, grated
Dry or fresh mint, optional
Sea salt, to taste
Mix ingredients together. Chill. Serve.
Roasted vegetable platter
Grill them…roast them…anyway you want them, a massive veggie platter is an absolute must on every Middle Eastern kebab dinner spread. Here you’ll see I opted for peppers (red, orange, yellow), zucchini, eggplant, carrots, asparagus and mushrooms. I roasted them with thyme sprigs, arranged them on the platter, poured that lovely jus all over, and seasoned with sea salt. That’s it.
Roasted cauliflower with sumac dipping sauce
Here’s another one of my favorite sumac-inspired combination. I’ll be sure to add a pic to this post – have to make a double batch next time – we end up eating the full batch every time I make this dish! That’s how good this is.
Roasting the cauliflower helps caramelize the skin giving it a sensuous texture and a sweet overtone. Combining it with the tartness and sourness of the sumac sauce, balanced with the freshness of the parsley and the bitter bite you’re going to experience from the coarse black peppers, makes it an ideal complementary flavor combination experience.
1 head of cauliflower, trimmed into florets
Sumac dipping sauce
3 tbsp sumac
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tbsp Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Sea salt & freshly ground coarse black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 4500F
Toss cauliflower florets in olive oil and sea salt. Place on parchment-lined sheet pan, place them on bottom rack. Turn them over halfway during roasting.
Meanwhile, make sumac dressing, set aside.
Serve warm with dressing on the side.
bil-han?’ wa ash-shif?’ (may you have your meal with gladness and health)