Foraging has been all the rage for some time now but in many countries people have been doing it forever. In Lebanon, people go out in the spring to pick wild greens they call sliq and in Sicily, where I am right now on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s farm, they pick whatever is edible and use it one way or another. It was my first time there in February and I was surprised by how glorious the landscape was with almond trees in full bloom and the fields covered with yellow flowers, some of which are edible cavolicelli flowers with a slightly peppery taste. As I was admiring and tasting them, I suggested to Mary that we try them tempura style. She liked the idea and we picked some, together with sage leaves, a green cauliflower and a pumpkin to do a mixed tempura.
When I wrote my Lebanese cookbook more than 20 years ago, sumac was still a relatively unknown ingredient, unlike now when almost everyone knows what it is, and more to the point can find it fairly easily. Anyhow, my mother told me all about how it is picked and dried, and then ground and I put all the information in the book together with how if you picked it from the wrong plant, you could die. Thank goodness for my mother being the fount of knowledge on all things culinary in Lebanon because I had never seen sumac either on the plant, or being dried and until recently, I only knew it in its ground form. But one day, a few years back, I was walking through souk el-Attarine in Aleppo and I found stalls selling sumac on the branch (‘ala al-‘anqoud as it is described in Arabic) and whole berries after they have been rubbed off the branch; and one guy was selling it ground with the seed and ground without — I honestly could not tell the difference. And two years ago, I found it being sold on the branch driving through the south of Lebanon . However, it is only two days ago, that I finally saw the whole process.