Sumac, future ruler of the world, in a salad with Aubergines and Red Onions
Could a relative newcomer to our spice racks really out-do Middle America’s child beauty pageant scene for convulsing, ruthless ambition? Only when it turns out to be a superspice.
Sumac is North Africa's answer to Jamie Oliver. It’s a spice that touts its wares in 250 varieties, and is likely to take on the tiny-eyed expanda-tron himself, launching a rival range of kitchen weaponry in Debenhams before sundown.
The Sumac tree is a 33 ft. tower of steely - eyed egomania; a reality distortionist surely at the science fiction end of Steve Jobs' fantasy bar chart. For it’s a very determined plant that says to their Asda-destined peers, or soggy teachers-cum-career-advisors 'My professional multi-objectives are as follows: I will be used as smoke fuel in the dying art of bee-confusery; I will be pivotal to the crafting of traditional native American pipes, I'll moonlight as Japanese candle wax, an Indian lemonade, and a UV light, culminating my glittering career as the jewel in the crown of Ottolenghi's Hummus Crusade of 2012 / 2013.'
This hyper-condiment has taken the art of spicehood beyond the kitchen and into the world of international enterprise. Waitrose has reported a rise of 23% in year-on-year sales (due, in part, to the Ottolenghi masterplan). It has established its appeal in dishes such as the Shakshuka, part African egg brunch, part jiggly dance move. It is the taste-powerhouse ready to stab the mighty lemon in the back and take the stage as the tangy, bitter flavouring of choice. In Florida, they have five names for it: shining sumac, winged sumac, dwarf sumac, flame leaf sumac and mountain sumac, despite having no mountains in Florida. One questions whether a spice that makes state officials imagine mountains is really a spice at all.
Has NASA melted down the Christian Scientologists, Mark Zuckerberg and Pudsey, the dog who won Britain's Got Talent, and morphed them into a messianic master-spice? Is that what's plotting in your cupboard, between the basil and the paprika? There isn’t really any other way you could explain a substance that’s smoking bees in the back garden, making pipes with Ray Redwings in South Dakota, making ‘lemonade’ without any lemons, is there?
Whatever the truth about Sumac, it’s still a pretty good, if not suspicious, addition to salads, shakshukas and a bunch of other things. Recommended by my mother from a book called Bitesize Salads by Murchdoch Books, this salad pairs sumac with aubergines and red onion, to refresh everything a bit.
Prep and cooking time: 30 minutes
1 aubergine, chopped into 1cm thick slices
150ml olive oil
10 cherry tomatoes
i small red onion, finely sliced
10g mint leaves, roughly chopped
5g flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon sumac
1 tablespoon lemon juice
half a tin chickpeas
Using 100ml of the olive oil, coat both sides of each slice of aubergine. then cook in a hot griddle for 5 minutes on each side, or until they're cooked through. Let them cool completely.
Cut the tomatoes in half, and combine with the aubergine and the red onion. Scatter the chickpeas, mint, parsley and sumac over the top.
Whisk the lemon juice and remaining olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad, toss gently and serve.