Sumac is the main flavor of this chicken casserole, and it is delightful.
This red sumac must not be confused with the poisonous sumac berries that many in western countries have heard of.
Sumac is related to poison ivy and Brazilian pepper which is why some types will make you ill.
Green, yellow, grey or white berries are the ones that are to be avoided.
This red sumac plant is a shrub or small tree that grows berries that are dried ground and eaten in several dishes in the Middle East.
All red sumac berries can be eaten without any ill effect.
The word sumac comes from the Medieval Latin word sumach which came from the Arabic word summaq derived from the same word in the Syriac language meaning ‘red’.
Sumac adds a bit of a sour lemon flavor to any dish, and is often used to garnish dishes giving them a bit extra depth.
One of my favorite uses for sumac is when it is added to spinach turnovers to give them an extra tart flavor.
My aunt Huda would always make me these turnovers when I’d come to visit, and she still holds the record for best spinach turnovers as far as I’m concerned.
I did my undergraduate degree in London, and so would come back home to Amman during the holidays.
In Arab culture it is always important to let extended family know you are in town so they can come visit you or you can make plans to visit them.
I would always look forward to all the wonderful food I’d get to eat given that everyone would want to cook a meal for me.
It was always nice to come back to Amman, mainly to see friends.
But it also involved a roundtrip flight which was one of the best aspects of the trip.
It must have been a difficulty for my dad to afford sending me to the UK to study.
I wish I was a better student! Being in England opened my eyes to a lot given that growing up in Jordan had its limit on experiences.
We did go to the States most summers to visit my mother’s relatives and that did give a broader look on the world, but there is nothing like living on your own in college to help teach you about the world.
I got to college when I was sixteen, I was already and accomplished drinker and smoker, so I fit in with being around older kids.
And since I was underage, my biggest hurdle was getting served in the pub, which I mostly had no problems with.
Those were the days!
Wasting away in many senses of the word.
However, I never did drugs, and I’m happy that was not something that presented itself.
At this stage in my life I have not smoked a cigarette in over thirty years, which I am very proud of.
But I do remember fondly the days of coming home for the holidays and hanging out with my friends, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes late into the night, discussing the mysteries of life, which usually revolved stories around members of the opposite sex.
I’d sleep in late, waking to wonderful spinach turnovers, left for me by my aunt, flavored with sumac which brought back to me all the best flavors of the Middle East!
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Place chicken legs in a bowl.
- Add the olive oil, and spices. Rub into chicken.
- Add onions to the bowl and mix in with the chicken and spices.
- Pour into casserole dish.
- Add the water, and cover.
- Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.