John here. Looking at some of the recipes that I've got in the pipleine, it seems that quite a few of them call for ingredients which themselves call for some preparation. I figure I should get the ones I use most often right away, before I actually post recipes that use them.
I've always loved the flavors of Middle Eastern food, but for years, it was mostly a mystery - something to be ordered in a restaurant, and enjoyed without spending much time thinking about what goes into it. And for anyone other than an obnoxious, authenticity-fetishizing...ugh...foodie (God, even I hate that word. I'm calling a moratorium on its use.), that's probably perfectly fine.
But if you're like me, I'm sorry. But, more to the point, you also probably aren't satisfied simply thinking to yourself "that was good." You want to figure out what's in it, recreate it, and, eventually, imporove upon it. Looking up recipes for various Middle Eastern dishes, I came across one ingredient more than almost any other: sumac.
This spice comes from the dried and ground fruits of a small tree in the genus Rhus. It has a beautiful reddish-purple color. Its flavor is very bright and tangy, a lot like lemon. It's also salty, and has a deep, savory, almost meat-like aftertaste. It has plenty of uses by itself, but it's also the primary ingredient in a blend called Za'atar.
Za'atar is a blend consisting primarily of sumac and sesame seeds, as well as various herbs. It has a wide range of uses in Middle Eastern food. it can be used as a dry rub for meat, or it can be added to almost any soup or sauce. It's also very good mixed with olive oil, and used as a dip for bread.
Clockwise from top: oregano, thyme, and marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, sumac, salt
- 1/2 cup sumac
- 4 tablespoons dried thyme
- 4 tablespoons dried oregano
- 4 tablespoons dried marjoram
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sesame seeds, and heat until they take on a golden-brown color, and become more aromatic, stirring constantly. 2-4 minutes.
Remove the seeds to a small bowl and allow them to cool for a few minutes.
Place the seeds, and all the other ingredients, in a spice grinder or small food processor, and grind until the seeds are pulverized. You can also use a mortar and pestle.
Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight (In case you were considering using your jar of spice blend to decorate your windowsill? I don't know.)