Sumac-Dusted French Fries with Roasted Garlic Dip
Spice blends can be magical. With just the right amount of this and that, a well-crafted blend is greater than the sum of its parts. However, with up to 20 spices working in tandem, the individual pieces inevitably get lost and are impossible to distinguish. A blend definitely has its time and place -- curries, rubs, soups, and seasonings -- but the way a spice shines all on its own can be equally beautiful.
Photo by Dayvid LeMmon Easy to make. Just as easy to enjoy.
The easiest way to get a feel for a single spice is to use it alone on a simple ingredient that can hold its own: vegetables, quality cuts of meat, or breads. With that in mind, I set my sights on sumac, a popular spice in Middle Eastern, Persian, and some Mediterranean cuisine that's little-known in the US. It's a star ingredient in the spice and herb blend za'atar, which is widely used as a condiment as well as a seasoning for dough, meat, vegetables, and hummus.
This spice starts as reddish-purple berries from sumac plants. The small berries, which grow in big clusters, are dried and ground into a bright red spice. In fact, the word "sumac" traces its etymology way back to the word for "red" in Syriac, a language that was first prominent in the second century BCE. Since sumac can't be found in run-of-the-mill grocery stores, and of course it's best to get the freshest, highest quality spices to ensure optimal flavor, I headed to Penzey's at Tempe Marketplace to pick up a jar. At $3.75 for a small jar (1.2 oz.), you'll get enough to experiment with quite a few dishes. Once you get a taste, you'll be putting it on everything, maybe even mixing up an original blend of za'atar to keep handy on the kitchen table.
WildeHerb.com Sumac tree with berries