Everyone knows someone whose delicate taste buds can’t tolerate high-acid foods like pineapple, kiwi and citrus — specifically lemon and lime. It’s not an uncommon occurrance, highly acidic foods are just that. And some people just plain don’t like it. But I kind of need acid to cook properly, and not like that Friendsgiving junior year of college. That turkey was positively terrifying.
Back to the culinary world, though. Acid “brightens” up food, sharpens the edges, makes it pop. Food that isn’t bright is dull. Thankfully for all you dullards out there, there’s sumac, a seasoning from the Middle East whose bright, lemony flavor won’t hurt your tongue a bit.
The dark red powder, harvested from a furry red beehive-looking thing in a tree, looks spicy, but imparts an entirely mild, slightly fruity tartness to anything it touches. Most traditionally sumac is used to season rice. I like to add some to a pot of boiling rice right before I put the lid on — it turns the finished product a really eye-pleasing shade of magenta and infuses it with citrusy flavor. Right, just like at Chipotle, you get it. Here are some other great ways to sub it into lunch instead of lemon.
- Sprinkle it over hummus, should you find yourself eating from that region of the world for lunch. Typically a lemon-heavy cuisine, Middle Eastern food takes naturally to sumac in almost any capacity. It’s awesome on stuffed grape leaves.
- Mixed with mayo, which can then be used to make chicken salad, deviled eggs, baked salmon, or simply a better sandwich.
- Whisked into a simple salad dressing to cut down on the amount of lemon juice or vinegar you’d need to flavor it.
- Mixed into fish burgers.
- Rubbed onto chicken before roasting.
- In any quinoa salad, ever.
- In Greek salad (a notoriously lemon juice hangout).
- In this vegetarian schnitzel recipe.
A final note: do not harvest it yourself! Presumably you have heard of poison sumac, a relative of “delicious seasoning” sumac. Just buy it pre-ground, don’t be a foraging hero. We’ve heard too many awful foraging hero stories. Like that time you picked fiddleheads in the woods for three hours and it was magical. That is an awful foraging hero story. Let me tell you about this one Friendsgiving…
More lunch seasonings on Food Republic: