Spices and herbs are definitely the main ingredients of a local cuisine. The terroir, the land gives its best in the aroma and taste of different plants native to each cuisine. Recipes may have the same main ingredients in the context of protein, carbs and, vegetables – for example, there are numerus of traditional dishes based on lamb – but each region hides secret ingredients that give a special taste. If a dish were a theatrical play, lamb would be the protagonist and herbs and spices would be the hidden characters, or the ‘outsider’ in a competitive scenario. Herbs and spices are the reason we eat, not only to fill our stomach, but also to enjoy the treasures of this planet. One of these little treasures is Rhus coriaria, ‘Roudi’ in Greek, but mostly known as sumac worldwide. Rhus’ mature fruits are collected in late spring and then dried and crushed. In this simple way, a unique spice brings a sour taste into our kitchen, but it also makes its way pharmacies and clothing. Roudi has been used from ancient times to paint clothes a deep red color. Also, clinical studies have proved that it can help to reduce cholesterol and that it is a powerful antioxidant. This unique fruit can protect your heart and also help you with diabetes. In the culinary world, it was widely used before the planting of lemon trees in Europe (which came from South America). Its sour taste can replace lemons in vinaigrettes.
Traditionally it is used as an Arabic kitchen drizzle on top of every dish (just like Greeks do with thyme and oregano). Usually, in Greek cuisine, roudi is added to every red meat recipe (but mainly with lamb), to lend a sour taste, instead of using lemons. Next time you have a barbeque in your place, add some chopped dried onions onto rolls with a tablespoon of sumac and a tablespoon of parsley! It is a mouth washing side for your meat! The easiest dip you can make is with 1 cup of Greek yogurt ‘straggisto’ – strained – with a tsp of sumac, a tsp oregano, and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil!
If you come to Greece this summer, go to a local spice shop and make a collection of Greek herbs and spices to “taste Greece” from far away!
*The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before reach herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially those who have health issues, are pregnant or are under the age of 6.
Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD Candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication.