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MORAN: Sumac is our local lemon

July 19, 2017 - 12:34 PM

 


OPINION


When most people think of foraging wild edible plants, berries, and mushrooms they think of hiking around parks and mountains scouring the woods and fields for edible treasure. You might be surprised to know that our residential suburbs contain some of the most versatile ingredients.

Sumac is a plant that we would all recognize and may have grown up with but we are generally unaware of how it can be incorporated into our cuisine.

The sumac tree is here because it looks good and thrives around typical modern housing developments with no maintenance or irrigation. It is a farm crop in countries like Lebanon and Iran, but here its culinary use goes unnoticed.

The fruits or flowers of the sumac can best be described as a cone. They are ripe when they are mostly a vibrant red colour. The easiest way to enjoy the flavour is an infusion that has the nickname of Indian lemonade, but I prefer the name sumac-ade.

Sumac is seen ripening in the author’s backyard.
Sumac is seen ripening in the author’s backyard.

The cones are a bit hard to be eaten directly, but they have a coating of pure, sour ascorbic acid. This is the same ingredient that is in most Vitamin C pills. It is so acidic that it can corrode metal, so only use woods or glass bowls and utensils. Squeeze and rinse the cones into water until it becomes pink and sour, then add sugar to taste. This is the ultimate local alternative to lemons and limes. The sumac cones can be hung to dry for use throughout the year.

A sumac concentrate or syrup can be the perfect finishing touch for a cocktail. For savoury salty food, I recommend stuffing chunks of sumac around meat and vegetables while cooking. My favourite is chicken with sumac stuffed everywhere possible. This will make your chicken pink and give it a sour taste similar to the classic pairing of chicken and lemon.

Make sumac-ade with the kids or show off this trick to thirsty guests at your next party. As always, our local edibles can enhance our food, culture, and happiness in quirky and unforeseen ways.

Check out my Facebook page Everything Wild to stay up to date on our local foraging scene.

— Scott Moran is a local forager discovering his own path to food freedom


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