The mysterious plant was indeed sumac, a Godsend for our forefathers and mothers who needed a lemony taste in their dishes but could not access lemons (either due to seasonal lack of availability or because they did not live in the coastal areas where citrus is grown).
Sumac is dried and ground into a powder and keeps for many many months in a jar. If you buy it from a store, beware of the sumac that looks bright red. It should be dark, of a brownish hue otherwise, it has been dyed artificially.
Sumac is used in hundreds of dishes in Lebanon and throughout the region; it is one of the components of zaatar in Lebanon and used also to flavor stuffings (for mehshis and kibbeh) as well as in dressing for fattoush.
This recipe is from dear Asma, a Kurdish/Lebanese lady from the region of Mardin in Turkey. The sumac berries are soaked overnight then strained through a cheesecloth and mixed with grape molasses for a refreshing summer drink. The taste is peppery, a bit sour, and mellow from the molasses or honey.
Today, I used powdered sumac simply because that is what is available in North America.
INGREDIENTS: 1 serving
- 12 ounces of water
- 1 heaping tablespoon of dried powdered sumac
- 1 tablespoon of grape molasses or honey
- Place the sumac in the water, cover and leave overnight. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve or a cheesecloth or a paper towel set over a sieve; add the grape molasses or honey, stir and refrigerate. Drink ice cold for a refreshing drink. This drink is also supposed to help upset stomachs.