A friend of mine told me she uses sumac (I am not sure she was teasing me, or what). Is sumac used in cuisine? If it is used, what is it used for?
Sumac is commonly used a tart flavoring element in the eastern Mediterranen region. Historians believe that it was the common sour element in cooking for that area prior to domestication of lemons. It is a characteristic seasoning element in Fatoush, a Syrian bread salad.
It's not usually available in the mainstream spice section of most grocery stores. The best place to locate it is in mid-eastern markets, delis, upscale stores such as Dean & Deluca or online through Penzey's or the Spice House.
The fruit of some varieties is used in traditional Middle Eastern cuisine. They dry it and use it like paprika (though it's flavor is more citrusy.)
Make sure you get the right kind. Sumac runs the gamut between edible and poisonous.
It's used in Mediterranean cooking, though I don't know why more people don't use it. There were shakers of it on each table at a restaurant I used to go to before its nearby location closed - http://www.sorrentogrill.com/. Anyways, my favorite thing to get there was the Braised Chicken on Wednesdays. I would heavily sprinkle sumac on it!
The sumac gave a great earthy, slightly acidic, and very slightly salty flavor. It was the reason I got the dish - because I knew I could have the sumac with it!
They also served warm pita with a yogurt sauce. I would add sumac to that yogurt sauce, along with some salt, for a great way to start the meal.
You should definitely get some and experiment with it. It's certainly not a strange taste, just a very pleasing combination of flavors you don't get from other spices. If you ask me, it also has a hint of mushrooms.
I asked the same question to one of my friend, we do not use sumac that much either. He basically said whenever you eat onion use sumac. I tried couple times it works. You can add it to any salad. I make onion salad with sumac, very easy. Mix onion and sumac and squeeze it by hands. It goes great with hot dog, burger etc.