Many people keep sumac powder in their pantries to add some lemony tang and colour, particularly to Middle Eastern dishes. I see it being used in an increasing number of recipes, and am happy that this versatile and tasty spice is catching on. What many people don’t realize is that our local staghorn sumac in Ontario, as well as neighbouring provinces and norther states, is the same product. It is plentiful, easy to identify and gather, has a long shelf life, and is easy to turn into powder or liquid. For information on its nutritional value, I recommend looking at this article.
It has been a tough year for gathering sumac in this area – just too much rain. The rains tend to wash away the tasty bits, so I only collect sumac after a long dry spell. The good thing about winter here is there is little or no rain, and the sumac is still good for picking, so I set off last week to restock my pantry. A full five minutes of picking off a few clusters of berries was sufficient to fill a sack to be dried or soaked.
I have figured out a few things about preserving sumac.
First, when drying, it is simpler to dry the whole cluster. It doesn’t take any longer, and the berries are easier to remove when dry. Just pop them all in a single layer in a low oven or dehydrator and leave them until they feel completely dry, about five hours. Each cluster is made up of several small cones, so if you just pull them apart, you can easily rub the berries off right down to the centre stalk.
The dried berries need only be ground (I use a coffee grinder) and then sifted.
The second thing I learned is if you want a liquid infusion, just covering them with tepid water and letting them soak for anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours. Strain off the liquid through a cloth. I then repeated this process with more water and the second batch was as dark and tasty as the first. I prefer this method to simmering them, which although gives a deeper infusion, will destroy the vitamin C. If cooking with the infusion anyway, this is not a problem, but when I use the product raw, it is best to preserve its full nutritional value.
Now that I have a good stock of sumac, I will be posting more recipes using this super local super food. Meanwhile, I did make a recipe for baked beans I have been meaning to get to for some time now. A ridiculously easy and satisfying dish for the winter months, it needed a bit of a makeover to move with the times. The addition of sumac gives it a mildly fruity flavour and richer colour than the original recipe. It is as easy to make a big batch as a small batch, and any extra can be frozen for later use without losing any of its original flavour or texture.
I divided the recipe in half – to make one vegan and the other with meat. For the meat version, I used pork crackling left over from my lard rendering, but bacon, pork or sausage, raw or cooked, would work just as well.
Beans with Sumac
3 cups cooked navy beans
1 cup onion, chopped
1 (or more) clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup pork crackling (for a meat version)
1/2 tsp dried mustard powder
2 tsp chili powder
2 Tbsp sumac
1 tsp salt
1 cup pureed tomatoes
2 Tbsp dark molasses
1 cup sumac juice or water
Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan or slow cooker. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently, covered, for 3-4 hours. Add more liquid if they become too dry.
I am bringing this hearty winter dish to Angie’s 51st Fiesta Friday. You are cordially invited to drop in and join the party, with or without a contribution of your own. You are sure to meet some talented bloggers and find some original and tantalizing recipes. Hope to see you there!