While perhaps lacking the trendy glamour of z'aatar or ras el hanout, sumac is a major player in the Israeli spice scene, and a true recipe star in its own right. Its tangy acidity rivals that of an actual citrus while maintaining a salty undertone. The next time you're cooking up a recipe that calls for lemon juice, try substituting a few pinches of sumac instead; it really packs a punch.
Sumac as a spice is the ground and dried drupe of a sumac tree or shrub, and is popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Take a walk through one of Israel's markets, and you'll recognize the spice by its deep red color.
Sumac "plays well with others," and is often one element in Israeli spice blends (including zaatar). Those not yet familiar with the ingredient might want to test out a more simple recipe, and use sumac on its own, to begin to play with its complex flavor profile. There is no better canvas for spices and new flavors than the classic and simple Israeli roasted cauliflower.
Roasted cauliflower, of course, has been cooked for millennia. It has only been a decade, however, since a recipe for whole roasted cauliflower took the world by storm, courtesy of Israel's culinary sweetheart Eyal Shani. In the below recipe, simply add a liberal sprinking of sumac to the listed spices.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower
Recipe by Eyal Shani and Miri Hanoch.
1 whole medium-size, fresh, white cauliflower, florets tightly packed and covered in bright green leaves
3 tbsp. olive oil
Preheat the over to 220 degrees Celsius (430 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Place the cauliflower in a metal pot and fill until 3/4 full with mineral water. Add about 10 grams of salt per liter of water. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, lower to a moderate boil and cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the cauliflower.
Brush the cauliflower with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Place in a baking dish, place the dish in the center of the oven, and bake until the top turns golden brown (about 30 minutes).
Serve to the table in the baking dish. The outside of the cauliflower should be crisp and the inside as soft as butter. Separate the florets with a spoon and serve.