Cooking with something new: Sumac

Turkish Shepherd's Salad with sumac

Turkish Shepherd's Salad with sumac by Sara Shepherd

Until a few weeks ago, I knew sumac as a vigorous weed that grows in the ditches alongside Kansas highways and turns bright red in the fall.

It turns out, Middle Eastern people have known for hundreds, if not thousands, of years that dried and ground berries of the sumac plant make a tasty addition to food (not necessarily Kansas ditch-sumac, there are many varieties of the species). I've since noticed that Aladdin Cafe has a dish called Sumac Chicken on the menu, too.

My friend recently hosted a Turkey-themed dinner party (not random, she was just back from a three-week trip there) where she and her husband made main courses for the feast and assigned side dishes to the rest of us. My assignment was Shepherd’s Salad, with a note saying I didn’t have to use the sumac the recipe called for if I didn’t have any.

Of course, I didn’t have any (I didn’t even know what it was). But of course, I was curious. I Googled, determined I could surely find some in bulk at a Middle Eastern market in Kansas City, and wasn’t disappointed — only $2 for a big scoop, too!

The flavor is bright and citrusy, a little like coriander but more earthy. The color is a beautiful deep purpley-red.

Everyone liked this fresh pretty dish, which works as a salad alongside kebabs, lamb or fish, or an an appetizer or snack with crusty bread (to soak up the juice!).


Servings: 4

2 large tomatoes, diced

1/2 large cucumber, diced

1 Anaheim pepper, diced

1/2 medium onion, sliced

1 tablespoon sumac

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place all vegetables in a medium sized salad bowl. Add sumac, salt, pepper and mint. Toss. Drizzle with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Chill until ready to serve.

(Recipe adapted from and


DaniB 10 years, 6 months ago

Hi Sara,

We've bought sumac at the Mediterranean Market at 15th and Kasold in case you're ever looking for an even more local source. :)

blindrabbit 10 years, 6 months ago

A nice pinkish "Indian lemonade" can be may from the ripe red berries of the native sumac found around here, has the same malic acid as found in cider apples.. Mash berries with pestle or potato masher into cold water, dilute with more water, strain through cheesecloth, sweeten to taste. Make sure you do not use the rare (here) poison sumac which has white berries

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