There's something distinctly thrilling to me about coming home with a bag of things that I've gathered, and using them all the time. Maybe because it's a throwback to something more primal? Maybe because it makes you feel more connected with nature? Maybe all of the above.
A few days ago, the weather finally cooled down enough to turn the oven on. After a taste of fall, a few days of rain, and a day with the heater on, the temperatures soared to 98 degrees with no breeze. Days were spent sitting around eating watermelon and ice cream, and complaining. There was lots of complaining. Finally the temperatures dropped and a cool breeze blew through LA. I hope this is it, but you can never tell around here.
With the temperatures lower, I finally made it out to gather some sumac. Commonly used as a kitchen spice in many parts of the Middle East, it's relatively unused here. There seems to be a bit of misinformation about what types can be used- in one book I read last week it said to always use the stuff you can buy from Middle Eastern shops because American sumac is poisonous and tasteless- and this is false on both counts. Of course you can use store-bought stuff in a pinch, but I highly recommend going out for a walk and finding some wild American sumac. Not only do you know where it comes from, but it is seriously delicious stuff. Our local sumac gets all drippy with sour juices. I'll nibble on them while I'm hiking- it helps so much with the dehydration that is common to us summer-heat-hikers.
This sumac chicken recipe is a major adaptation on something I read in The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan. I was slightly nervous about the combination of sumac and cloves, but it's actually beautiful. It tastes like I remember Israel tasting. The spices aren't overwhelming, and the flavours mingle perfectly. I served it with yogurt (a raita-type thing with cucumbers chopped through it) and rice. It'd be delicious with couscous, or flatbreads or pita (which is what the original recipe said to serve it with).
If you're interested, I've written about the medicinal properties of sumac (and other astringents) here.
Palestinian Mousakhan: Chicken with sumac, onions and pine nuts.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions
3 cloves garlic
I chicken, in 4 pieces (2 breasts, 2 thighsandlegs)
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 tb pine nuts
2 1/2 tb ground sumac
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground coriander
stems of 1 bunch cilantro, tied with string
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
Place the onions, garlic and olive oil in a blender, and blend until a thick paste. Add the spices, then pour over the chicken, and leave to marinade for up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a tagine, or casserole dish, heat with a couple of tb of olive oil. Add the chicken, sauce and chicken stock. Pop the lid on and cook over medium heat for 25 minutes. Then remove the lid, sprinkle with pine nuts, and put in the oven for 15 minutes until the chicken is done. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve over rice or with pita bread.