Food: Sumac and Selby’s (International Market)

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 This appears on page 13 of the January 13 print edition of Ace.

BY TOM YATES

Recently, one particular gift box from Williams-Sonoma sent me on a culinary adventure. It was filled with sensual exotic spices.  Spices I’ve always coveted and needed, but never had. Six spice jars were individually wrapped in green tissue paper, extending the gleeful discovery. Saigon Cinnamon, African Curry, Harissa, Zahtar, Ras el Hanout, and Sumac unveiled their aromatic splendor in one glorious gift box. 

That being said, my hopes of actually using them in our house were slim to none. Most of the flavor profiles associated with those spices generally don’t fall into Michael’s culinary palate zone. Sumac, however,  was one I believed he could joyously embrace.

(Sumac: Refreshing bright, fruity flavor with natural hints of tangy citrus and savory salt.)

I stumbled across a recipe for a sumac-based Turkish Red Lentil Tomato Soup. Sold. It could be the first ticket to Michael’s tasting tour of my new spice collection. I had everything I needed to prepare a riff on the Turkish soup. Everything, that is,  except red lentils. Knowing my grocery certainly wouldn’t have them, I thought about going to Parisa International Supermarket, but didn’t want to deal with the traffic. The same issue arose with Fresh Market, Good Foods, and Whole Foods. Traffic.

I decided to split the travel distance and check out a relative newcomer to the foreign market landscape, Selby’s International Market on Harrodsburg Road.

Off I went and my adventure began.

Selby’s International Market is small, bright, clean, and extremely well stocked. Four aisles were packed to the gills.  I was mesmerized. Angela, the delightful proprietor, greeted me warmly and asked if I needed any help.
“I’m looking for red lentils.”, I mumbled.  “I have Plenty, follow me,” she said.

She wasn’t kidding.

I was in the store for an hour wandering the aisles transfixed and awed by the assortment of brightly colored items stocked and stacked on the shelves.  It was beautiful.

I stepped into Selby’s for red lentils and left with two bags filled with plaintains, yucca, tamarind paste, cardmom pods, black mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves (a first), and lentils.

Mission accomplished.

Content with myself, I drove home with my treasures.

I wanted a roasted tomato base for the soup. After preheating the oven to 350, I halved several roma tomatoes, drizzled them with olive oil, and seasoned them liberally with salt and pepper before sliding them into the oven to roast. While the tomatoes caramelized, I washed and picked through the jeweled lentils before setting them aside.

To complete the flavor base, I sauteed sliced celery, carrots, onions, and minced garlic in olive oil until softened, but not caramelized.  When the tomatoes were well concentrated and broken down, I added them to the sauteed vegetables with 4 cups of chicken stock to simmer and combine.

While the soup gently bubbled, I prepped the garnishes.  I certainly wasn’t making a traditional Turkish lentil  tomato soup.  Hardly.

I sauteed julienned collard green ribbons with peeled small sweet baby carrots and set them aside.

I pureed the soup, returned it to the dutch oven, and added 2 small diced yukon gold potatoes, 1 chopped green pepper, the reserved washed  red lentils, 1 tablespoon of sumac, 3 tablespoons of minced fresh parsley, salt, and pepper.  On a whim, I tossed a few thawed ( leftover from a previous meal) Stone Burr Farm ground lamb meatballs into the simmering soup.  It smelled amazing.  The moment the ground sumac hit the steaming liquid, aromatic citrusy  sumac exploded through the wafting steam. Wow!

When the lentils and potatoes were tender, I ladled the soup into large pasta bowls and topped it with the sauteed collard greens, baby carrots, and parsley.  A final shower of burnt umber ground sumac finished it off.

Every sense of taste was assaulted in a gorgeous way. Bitter bright green collards swirled through the soft pureed tomatoes, giving way to earthy rich potatoes and al dente lentil pearls. The baby carrots offered sweetness while the poached lamb meatballs provided salty depth. Although the  parsley added a wonderful grassy freshness, the tangy tart sumac stole the show, brightening the robust soup with crunchy citrus acidity.  Balance.

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