I seem to always pick the one recipe in a book that revolves around some new and exotic ingredient that I’ve never even seen before, let alone used.
The other week, it was goat. This week, it’s sumac, the dried, ground fruit of the rhus plant. Sumac is common all over the Middle East, where it’s a common ingredient in mezze dishes and added as to salads for its sharp lemon flavour.
It might be common in Turkey, or Iran, but it’s nowhere to be seen in Yorkshire.
Three supermarkets and two Asian stores were barren of sumac, and then in the third Asian store, a small packet of sumac, the last one, the name spelled somaq on the front. One packet of spice took me over two hours to find.
I’m that dedicated.
You need to start this dish the night before by soaking 450g of dried butter beans in plenty of water with two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda. Inevitably, you’ll forget this step, so feel free to experiment with canned beans. They won’t be as good, but they’re definitely convenient.
The next day, cook the beans in plenty of fresh water for at least thirty minutes, until they’re soft, but not falling apart.
Drain the beans, then lightly fry them in olive oil in a large frying pan, in batches – the beans need to brown and maybe catch a little on the bottom. You’re aiming for texture and flavour.
When the last batch of beans are in the pan, add a sliced red chilli, eight spring onions, sliced lengthways into thin strips, a crushed clove of garlic and 200g of roughly chopped spinach. If you can get it, sorrel would be even better. Saute the contents of the pan for a minute or so, until the garlic starts to cook, the chilli softens and the spring onions wilt.
Add the rest of the beans, remove from the heat and season with plenty of salt.
Let the beans cool down until they’re either just warm or even completely cool, then squeeze some lemon juice over the top, maybe a couple of tablespoons worth, and sprinkle over two tablespoons of sumac. Finally, crumble 150g of feta cheese over the top and garnish with some chopped soft herbs – dill or parsley would be ideal.
The result is an earthy salad, the mealy butter beans acting as a mellow counterpoint to the sharp and cutting feta cheese, the sumac adding a dash of piquant spice in the background. Good warm, this is even better cold.
This recipe is from the frankly incomparable Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.