I mentioned in another post that I had picked a few sumac berries on the side of the road. Sumac has a sour flavor, and the ground berries are a major component of Za’atar, a spice mix popular in Middle Eastern cuisine.
To use the dried berries I first removed them from the stems by rubbing with my fingers. A lot of stem debris came off with the stripped berries. I used a colander to remove the chaff.
A sumac berry consists of a very hard seed which has a fuzzy red coating. The red coating is the part used. I used a small food processor to separate it from the seed. The food chopper was incapable of grinding the hard seeds completely so I let it run for a couple of minutes to get as much of the coating off as possible.
A sieve came in handy to separate the red powder from the seeds.
The sumac was now ready for culinary use to add a sour flavor to dishes. The seeds can be used to make a tasty lemony tea.
Today I made a version of za’atar to suit my taste. Initially I used equal amounts of all the ingredients except for the salt.
I started by toasting black sesame seeds and cumin seeds in a dry pan before coarsely grinding them with a little sea salt using a mortar and pestle. In a spice grinder I finely ground some of the roasted and coarsely ground sesame seeds and cumin along with equal parts thyme, marjoram, oregano, sumac and a little sea salt.
To test this spice mixture I mixed some with a little olive oil and brushed it on a sweet potato before baking. It was good, but I thought it needed much more tartness and more salt.
I added green mango powder (amchur), powdered pomegranate (anardana) and more sumac, all of which have a tart flavor. I also added black salt in increments until the flavor was right.
I put some of the Za’atar spice mixture in a small jar to take its place with the other spices, and the rest went into the freezer to stay fresh for future use.