Sumac’s name comes from the Arabic word for red, which is the color of the spice, sumac, widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a tangy flavor not unlike lemon but distinct. You can find sumac at any good spice shop, such as Penzey’s, or markets that sell Middle Eastern or Indian ingredients. You can also find it on line — there’s a link below in the ingredients list. The spice comes from the sumac bush, which grows all over the world. The type that is made into a spice is sweet sumac, or aromatic sumac. The fruits are dried and ground into a powder. Poison sumac (there are more than 250 species of sumac) is distinguished by white fruits rather than red or orange. Poison sumac can cause an allergic reaction like poison ivy. If you don’t have sumac for this recipe, substitute lemon juice and/or lemon zest. This was part of our demo with a large class on a beautiful Wednesday at Brookside Gardens February 19, 2014.
2 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 T sumac
¼ t cayenne (optional)
2 lbs frozen, chopped spinach (can substitute fresh of course!)
4-5 C chicken broth, low sodium (homemade preferred)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ C heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish — Feta cheese, crumbled
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the spices, cook another 2 minutes. Stir in the spinach, broth, and lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Puree half the soup in a blender or food processor, then return the soup to the pot and thin with additional broth as needed. Alternatively, use an immersion blender and partially puree the soup, adding more broth if necessary. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper (and more sumac to taste), reheat on low. Serve topped with crumbled feta. Serves 6.