Sumac’s tart, fruity flavor makes it an easy way to brighten and sharpen a dish without adding citrus juice or vinegar. We often think of it as a dry acid. In addition to using it in our tomato salad, we also like it dusted on avocado toast with extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper; and infused into simple syrup that we use to sweeten lemonade, spritzes and cocktails. Also try it in:
■ A salad dressing: Whisk ¼ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley (minced), 1 tablespoon water, 1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar, 1¼ teaspoons ground sumac, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon honey. Season with kosher salt and black pepper.
■ A popcorn topping: Combine 4 tablespoons melted salted butter, 2½ teaspoons ground sumac, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon cayenne. Drizzle over hot popcorn, then toss. ◆
For a fix for flavorless tomatoes, we looked to the Middle East, where tomatoes are often consumed raw and simply seasoned, sometimes with nothing more than a splash of lemon juice and an abundance of fresh herbs.
A Palestinian variation on this intrigued us—a combination of thinly sliced tomatoes, shreds of fresh mint and a drizzle of olive oil-lemon dressing. But one ingredient in particular stood out: a finishing sprinkle of ground sumac.
“Sumac adds to the salad and gives it a bit of sharpness, some personality, so it’s more than just tomatoes,” says Reem Kassis, author of “The Palestinian Table.”
Turns out that the citrusy, sharp-sweet flavor of sumac acts like salt, heightening the flavors of other ingredients and balancing them against deeper, richer ones. It’s used in abundance, for example, to brighten another Palestinian specialty—musakhan, a dish of braised chicken and onions. And generations of cooks in Kassis’ family have used it to spice variations of the tomato, herb and onion salad.
That salad is usually prepared in the summer, when tomatoes are at their best. But we found that using substantially more sumac than is traditional—and in two ways—could elevate the flavor even of standard-issue grocery store tomatoes.
For the dressing, we combined 3 teaspoons of sumac with a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice and olive oil. For deeper flavor, we also added blanched garlic cloves mashed to a paste; the blanching takes just a minute and mellows garlic’s raw bite.
Rather than delicate slices, we opted for cutting the tomatoes into wedges, which held their shape better and resulted in a more robust salad. Sliced onion, which we soaked in lemon juice to temper its harsh flavor, added a crisp texture and slightly pickled flavor. Liberal use of chopped dill, parsley and mint provided freshness.
A final sprinkling of sumac highlighted the tartness of the dressing, and a touch of flaky sea salt added a bit of crunch and bolstered the other flavors. This deceptively simple salad ended up a contrast of textures and flavors, with the tart sumac balancing and highlighting the sweetness of the tomatoes, no matter the season.