Sumac is a decorative bush that grows wild throughout the Middle East and parts of Italy. The dark purple-red berries are sold dried or ground and have a fruity, astringent taste. The Sicilian sumac and those berries grown at the highest latitude are said to be the best flavored of the sumacs. The berries are picked just before they ripen and dried. Sumac is used in the cooking of Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Ground sumac is rubbed into meats for grilling and is good with potatoes, beets, and in mixed bean salads. Whole, cracked or ground sumac berries are also used to make a fruity, sour culinary juice which can be added to marinades, salad dressings, sauces and yogurt. This is made by soaking the berries 15-20 minutes in warm water, squeezing the berries to get all the flavor, and then straining the liquid. The juice can be added to food at the end of cooking. Crushed dried sumac is called somagh.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Found in Middle Eastern markets ground or dried.
Substitutions: lemon zest plus salt OR (in salads) lemon juice OR (in salads) vinegar