Old Seasonal Uses of Sumac

As I was researching the Palestinian cuisine for my book Plated Heirlooms,

I had come to learn a lot about Sumac. Apart from the popular Summaqiah (a traditional Palestinian concoction/stew made using sumac the recipe and origins of which are fully covered in the book), Sumac was also used in the Old Palestinian kitchen to replace lemon when lemon was out of season. Rightly, the red berries of edible sumac do taste sour and in the Palestinian kitchen as elsewhere in the Levant, sumac is sprinkled over food to lend its tart flavour (read more about sumac and its uses in this link). Sprinkled over fish for instance, it has the same effect as a sprinkling of lemon. As such, it would not have escaped them that a sour juice of sumac could in fact replace lemon juice when needed. And at some point people managed to find a way to get a sour liquid out of the otherwise non-juicy sumac clusters! They had soaked it in water and noticed that the longer you soak sumac in water the more sour and pungent the flavour of sumac is in that water. Eventually, they would strain the liquid and use the water in the place of lemon juice whenever needed and not available and whenever the more sumac flavour was preferred. We all know that where there is flavoured water or any liquid with flavour there is juice! And as such, people would sweeten the sumac water with honey, sugar/syrup to create a sweet sumac drink.

I had just recently learnt though that the native Indians of America had also been making a sumac drink, which nowadays is referred to as Sumacade! Basically the same soaked sumac drink, sweetened with sugar/stevia/agave… and served as cool drink! I love finding such shared recipes in areas/times that do not necessarily have anything to do with one another… just another testament of how food eventually unifies us as a species with the same needs and the same access to resources eventually the same common sense! When the focus is back on earth and utilising what it provides us with, the process is more or less governed by what’s available and what is needed… what can be done… and the outcome is always decadent!

Sumac has many health benefits most important of which are the loads and loads of antioxidants, vitamin C and its antiaging properties (read more on this link). This makes this drink not only deliciously refreshing, but also very good for you. Give it a try and see how you like it.

Ingredients

200g DS Organic Sumac (or 300g fresh sumac berries)

1 liter lukewarm water

Agave Syrup to taste (add as much as you’d like it to be sweetened)

For making Sumacade using DS Organic Sumac:

Place the sumac in a double sheet muslin and hold the edges together and tie to form a tight pouch that holds in the sumac.

Place that pouch in a large pitcher then pour in the warm water. Lukewarm water allows the sumac to release its aromas and flavour more than chilled water. Cover the pitcher and allow to steep for 2-3 days, making sure to stir it at least once every day.

(Note that the longer it soaks the more pungent the flavour is. If you are making the lemon substitute then you will leave to soak for at least 5 days and will not sweeten when done.)

Once done, remove the putch and squeeze all the juices out, then place the sumac in an airtight bottle and place in the fridge and use as you would lemon juice and wherever you wish to add the sumac flavour (think fattouche dressing).

For the sweet chilled drink, sweeten the sumac-infused water to taste and serve chilled over ice. 

  • If you are using fresh sumac, follow the recipe in the video above. However, while in the video it is mentioned that sumac is naturally sweet, I am not sure that applies to the sumac that grows in the Levant, as it tends to be pungently sour. Anyhow, you can taste the sumac and sweeten the drink accordingly.

TIPs

  • Use sumacade as base for some cocktails. You can add some herbs and sliced fruits for another version of sumacade. You can mix it with berry juices or even iced teas…
  • It works as well as cranberry juice does in alcoholic beverages. It can be used in the making of a sumac Mojito or a frozen sumac margarita, or simply sumacade with vodka.
  • Never ever eat white sumac! That sumac is poisonous! The only edible sumac is red sumac. Also, if you are allergic to mangos and cashews and are sensitive to poison ivy, you will also be allergic to sumac as all of them belong to the same category of plants.
  • Understanding Sumac on this link

Sumacade image courtesy of ©Hayley Ryeczek, the author of Health Starts In The Kitchen. It is used in this recipe with her permission, please do not copy or use it without contacting her first.

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