If you’re going to add one spice to your repertoire this fall, make it sumac. Sumac refers to the dried and ground sumac berry, a red fruit of the sumac bush. It is citrusy but hearty. It is balanced, in that it brings lightness to heavy dishes and depth to light plates. Sumac is an easy spice to fall for, and my favorite uses for it are extraordinarily simple. It is the most frequent addition to my weeknight salad dressings, is often found sprinkled on flatbreads in my kitchen, and there is no better rub for any cut of lamb. Sumac is the perfect addition to roasted fall vegetables, and mixing this delightful spice into yogurt makes for the easiest but yummiest sauce.
I first fell for sumac in Morocco. While studying in Spain during my junior year of college, I went to Morocco for a week with the Peace Corps and a few other students. It is easily one of the most memorable trips of my life. It was my first introduction to a cuisine I loved as much as India’s. I stayed with a family in Tangier, in a house filled with the family’s many generations. I played with a four-year old Moroccan boy that was fascinated with my journal (of all things) and my camera, and we somehow communicated and played games despite our language barrier. Throughout each evening, I was served course after course by both mother and grandmother – rich tagines aromatic of ras al’hanout, the most decadent sweet and spicy eggplant, cucumber and tomato salads tossed with za’atar, and most memorable, a crisp and doughy flatbread dusted in sumac.
Sumac showed up again later in the trip, when we went to a small village outside of Chefchaouen. This village was actually just a home, again for several generations of a family - grandmother, son, daughter-in-law, and cute little baby. The family made olive oil out of several olive trees on their property, and that's how they made their living. The two women made us flatbread in an outdoor oven, sprinkling the bread with (you-guessed-it), sumac. This culinary experience stayed with me until this day. Because of these memories, I smile every time I use sumac, and food memories like this are a force behind my cooking everyday. Outside of the experiences with my mama in her Indian kitchen, the spices and flavors of Morocco most strongly impact my cooking. I continue to play in combining these two incredible cuisines with a fresh, clean, California perspective, and look forward to sharing more of these experiments with you!