Sohla El-Waylly Buys This Puckery Spice by the Pound

My husband Ham grew up in Doha, Qatar. When I sing classic American rock songs to the dogs, he thinks I’m a musical genius who spontaneously invents the catchy riffs. While I was introducing it to my favorites, like the AutoZone jingle, it introduced me to its fluffy, garlicky toum, crumbly, date-filled ma’amoul, and holly red sumac.

Since we met, he has been preaching the gospel of sumac and picking up a bottle every time we see one. While sumac has become more popular and more readily available, most of the things out there aren’t convincing. But I got Ham to survive 10 seasons of Friends and Monica Geller’s misrepresentation of a cook. The least I could do was endure some dusty sumac. It wasn’t until he let me try Burlap & Barrels Cured Sumac that I finally got it.

Sumac is a bright red berry that hits you with a sassy lemon scent first before you deal with a tongue-puckering crease – if that’s the good thing. Much of the sumac available in the US has gone through a process that involves drying the berries before crushing them into a powder, resulting in a dull, dry, and gritty spice.

Instead, Burlap & Barrel ethically sources wild sumac from small farms in Turkey, where they chop the berries before packing them in salt for healing. None of this is dried or mechanically ground. The result is a sticky, fluffy, light-colored spice that is more than just acid – the curing process preserves the floral aroma and delicate texture of the berry so that it only tastes picked. This is the sumac that Ham grew up with.

Normally I would never encourage you to buy more than one 3 ounce container of condiments at a time, but we do buy Burlap & Barrels Cured Sumac for a pound. There are the obvious uses – sprinkled on hummus or labne, dusted over a lemon-clad salad or cucumber slices, used when cooking grilled chicken or fish – and then there are the ways I like to use it.

I’m going to soak a palm in plain syrup for a pretty pink whiskey sour or a lively sorbet. (Be sure to strain the sumac once it has received the syrup.) Or toss it in pasta to try spaghetti al lime. Or add a spoon instead of lemon juice to my next berry cobbler or cake. Or my favorite trick: add cheaper chocolate to make it taste expensive. The sumac won’t be a star next to the thunderous taste of chocolate, but it will add that fruity kick that you find in quality chocolate. So add a tablespoon to your next batch of box mix brownies.

Ham and I have been together for 10 years now and we have always shared our cultures throughout the years. I recently showed him old ads for Doublemint gum and sang him the Bagel Bites jingle while he taught me how to make phyllo from scratch. Feels like a good deal to me.

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