Here you will find travel stories and recipes. Lots of foody stuff that you can cook aboard. And some yarns.
Especially those that come out during the wee hours on watch.
And these are all mixed up. Enjoy your sojourn!
Living here in the Western Cape we are surrounded by the Cape Malay style cooking, in a geo-culinary way. Which means that we literally have access to all the ingredients that make up the Cape Malay menu.
And we are not really expanding our domestic menu. Not very clever, one would venture.
So, with this realisation in mind and having the creative urge again, I did some brief research. Meaning I actually opened two of my cook books and perused the contents in a scholarly fashion, rather than a drooling hungry sailor fashion.
In our home we have regular curries with plain rice. But also we make biryanis, risottos and paellas, not forgetting stir fried rice with veggies. All of these are dishes that contains some form of sauce, making them on the juicy side. From my brief research the missus and I then decided to broaden our scope of rice dishes by trying a drier variety of rice dish and specifically pilaf. This dish has a myriad of variations and flavours and can be served as a side with just about any main by just varying the spices. The dish also has different styles and names, depending on where in the world you are. Wikipedia has some interesting facts on this dish.
We decided on a version with chicken, where the chicken is steamed in the rice. This makes it a complete one pot main. No extra cleaning up required! And just for fun I decided on a sweet and fruity version. Complete with coconut milk and mangos.
This dish will go very well with any fried or barbecued fish as a side dish. Especially in a tropical setting. The ingredients are simple and the process is almost a no-brainer. Preparation and cooking time is about half an hour.
The standard pilaf consists of raw rice fried in a flavoured oil, then slowly simmered in a stock till done. The rice comes out fluffy and loose, with all the flavours blended in. I chose to use coconut milk and some chopped dried mangos as main flavours to enhance the nutty flavour of the basmati rice.
Part of the stock for this dish comes from the caramelised meat sticking to the pan in the beginning.
The ingredients for this dish are simple and few, which is what makes pilaf so popular, I guess.
So here goes:
Tropical Pilaf With Chicken
400g chicken breast fillets, diced
1 to 1¼ cup basmati rice
¾ cup fresh peas
400 ml (1 can) coconut milk
3-4 slices dried mango, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp whole cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
3 pods cardamom (elachi), seeded 1½ tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
ghee, butter and oil for frying
Pat the chicken quite dry, then fry the cubes in a dry pan until they are brown. Set aside. Now add some ghee or butter and a small amount of oil to the pan and fry the onion until at least translucent. Add the whole spices and fry them until the fragrance fills the kitchen. Now add the raw rice and stir fry until all the kernels are coated with oil. This will help with flavour and with the separation of the kernels. The flavours of the rice should begin to fill the kitchen too.
Now add the coconut milk and the chopped mango and the turmeric. Check for salt and add as required. Mix through and check again. This will be the last of stirring the pan. Add back the chicken and cover the pan.
Turn the flame down to a minimum, the lowest it will go on the smallest burner.
The rice will swell out and absorb the fluid, so you will need to check that the dish doesn't burn. Add some boiling water as required. The peas are added when the rice is almost done. Peas cook quite fast and you want them not to be soggy and lose their flavour.
The most important part comes now. Once the rice is done, turn the stove off and leave the dish to rest for at least fifteen minutes. Some recipes even call for covering the pan with a dishcloth before putting the lid on. The dishcloth will absorb the steam and not allow the condensed water to drip back into the pan. This all is designed to allow the rice to turn fluffy.
Now dish up in bowls and garnish with some fresh coriander leaves.
And then understand why pilaf may just be the prince of rice dishes.
I had the privilege recently of having a long discussion about good food. Almost as good as eating the same.
This time around it was a lively discussion around food on board. A passion of mine. The company consisted of myself and a bunch of sailors from India, no less. These sailors were asking questions about food on board and provisioning. This after they had just completed the Cape to Rio Yacht race and brought the boat back via the notorious southern Atlantic ocean. A feat not to be sneezed at.
After some time, during the discussion, I came to the realisation that they sailed the boat from India to Cape Town, then participated in the Cape to Rio race, then sailed the boat back to Cape Town, all without a refrigerator on board. Around ten thousand nautical miles across the sea. Now they have to sail the boat back to India. Another voyage of around thirty-five days at sea, non-stop. It took a moment or two for me to realise the enormity of the provisioning problems on hand. A very interesting exchange of ideas, especially for a relative novice like me.
The conversation went around dried meat and other dried provisions, pickling of fish, baking bread and growing sprouts, amongst other things.
Of course, then we got hungry from the talk and the topic morphed to recipes. Why am I not surprised?
We discussed at length the merits of the various spices and their uses, and then I struck gold. We exchanged recipes.
Chicken korma. One of my favourite recipes. No heavy spice, just an explosion of aromas and flavours. And the weather here in Cape Town has taken a turn to cool. Opportunity, indeed!
I have made this dish several times before. All very tasty. This time around I got some proper info on what the locals do in India. My own interpretations appear to be but a watered down version of what the dish should be.
This dish is soul food par excellence. And one has to prepare it with passion. Otherwise just go and get a take-away sandwich. The dish is simple to make, with some preparation required. Nothing onerous. The preparation is where the passion comes in. The flavours all comes with the preparation and process. Simple spices, commonly available.
The first rule for this dish is to roast the whole spices, including the almonds, then grind them to a powder before use. Roast them separately, as the grain sizes differ and therefore the roasting time will differ.
Then fry the onions before taking the blender to them. Along with the roasted almonds. This time, after my discussion with the intrepid Indian sailors, I used coconut cream instead of water. The dish needs a very thick onion sauce to cook the chicken.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. Ingredients first.
Chicken Korma with coconut cream
600 g chicken breast fillets
2 large or 3 medium onions, chopped coarsely
1 cup yoghurt
½ cup almond slivers
2 cups coconut cream (1 can)
2 tsp coriander seeds (Whole dhania)
2 tsp cumin seeds (Whole jeera)
1 tsp whole jeera (Another, keep separately)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
¼ tsp asafoetida (hing) 2 tsp turmeric
5 green chillies, finely chopped
3 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ tsp freshly ground garlic
1 tsp freshly ground ginger
1 tsp red chilli powder. (Cayenne pepper will work for the South Africans)
some butter, ghee or cooking oil
some coriander leaves for garnish
Cut the chicken into thumb size bites and marinade in the yogurt with the turmeric and red chilli powder. Leave for 30 minutes while you prepare the sauce and the dry spices.
Roast the mustard-, coriander- and cumin seeds separately in a dry pan, then grind it all to a fine powder. Add the hing. Roast the almond slivers. Keep the almond separate from the rest of the spices. All this effort is what will determine the eventual flavour, so take care. And this is the bulk of your effort, the rest is a no-brainer.
Fry the onions and cinnamon sticks in the butter until the onions turn brown, then add the fresh chillies, garlic and ginger. Fry these for another 30 seconds, then add the almonds. Add the coconut milk, then blend the onion, almond and spice mix to a thick sludge. If the sludge is too thick, add a little water. You need a thick sauce for this dish.
Bring this lot to a slow boil, then add the ground spices to the sauce. Mix through, then add the marinade with the chicken. Add salt to taste. Turn the heat down so that the dish only just bubbles. Now add the raw cumin seeds.
Cook until the chicken is done.
In the meantime, soak the rice and cook as per instructions.
Dish up with some fresh coriander leaves as garnish.
And be careful, there are a lot of sensual flavours that creep out of this dish and through your soul. And you may have made too little food...
It has been a while since my last posting. Nursing a torn shoulder muscle saps away one's energy like nothing else. This injury put a serious crimp on my sailing activities. However, it is a new year and time for another cooking adventure.
We have high summer here in Cape Town around this time of the year, so making a stewed dish may sound somewhat eclectic. However, this one is very easy to make, requires but a few ingredients, and will feed the hungry hordes on their return from the beach or their other outdoor activities. And I probably have very little convincing to do to my northern hemisphere readers!
Another hearty dish originating in France, now used all over the world. I have made similar dishes with great success without wine, using soy sauce and tomatoes instead.
This dish may be made a day before serving. It ages and develops flavour if left in the refrigerator overnight and takes well to freezing.
So this is another one of my few experiments in cooking with wine. Somehow I have not yet explored that avenue of the culinary arts properly.
Most of the recipes on the internet use beef chuck as the main ingredient, so I opted for the same cut. It is one of the cheaper cuts from the carcass and quite flavourful. Basically any juicy cut from the forequarters will do. I also keep some of the bones. They tend to enrich the sauce part of the dish. Just be careful of too much fat. I usually trim most off. Between the bacon fat and the marrow you probably have sufficient fat for a delicious combination.
As for the bacon, most recipes propose pancetta. Over here in Cape Town, pancetta tends to be more expensive than the standard smoked bacon bits that can be obtained from your friendly chain store grocer.
You don't really need fancy cuts of bacon or beef, as you will be stewing it in wine anyway. I opted for a less pricey version of both.
Talking about the wine, there is much fuss. Some recipes specify quite fancy wine, others specify cooking wine. Others specify cognac as well. The reason for using the wine lies in the acidity and some flavour. The acidity will help to de-glaze the pan. The flavour of the wine itself is of less importance, as the dish contains a lot of other strong flavours that will overwhelm the wine. There is a caveat, however: The stuff sold as cooking wine may not be drinkable as a result of added chemicals. You don't want to use such concoctions. Use wine that you will drink yourself. While some French recipes specify burgundy, any easy quaffing dry red will do.
For this dish I specifically did not use tomatoes. It is up to the cook to decide. Both Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey has recipes on the net that use tomatoes. After a long chat about this subject recently to a French student of mine, I decided to go without tomatoes.
As for stock, I follow the school of thought that the preparation procedure creates sufficient stock to thicken the sauce, so no additional stock is required. So far this line of thinking has stood me in good stead.
The vegetables I cut into chunky, coarse bits. The meat is chunky, so the chunky veggies add to the texture. I did not have fresh thyme, so had to use the dried herb.
I always add some chilli to my stewed dishes, it brings out the other flavours. There is a caveat again: you need to have only a tiny amount in the dish. Once you start tasting the chilli, you have too much. If you are too scared, used a tiny bit of cayenne pepper instead, it is much more user-friendly.
So here goes.
Boeuf Bourguignon in Cape French style
1 kilo beef chuck cubed into 20mm cubes
250g bacon bits
250 g small brown mushrooms, quartered or halved
2-3 cups red wine
4 cloves garlic
2-3 brown onions, medium sized, chopped coarsely
3-4 pickling onions
4 medium carrots, julienned coarsely
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ cup plain cake flour
1 tablespoon dried thyme
4 bay leaves
½ hot Thai chilli, chopped.
salt & pepper
Fry the bacon bits in a medium hot pan until the fat has run out. Remove the bacon from the pan and keep aside. While the bacon is frying, pat the meat cubes dry with paper towels and roll them in the flour. This is the only tricky part. The meat has to be quite dry before dusting with flour. If not, the meat will not brown properly and your dish will not have the rich flavours that you want.
Now fry the meat cubes in the bacon fat until they are nice and brown. You have to do this in batches, otherwise the meat juices will make enough water in the pan to boil the meat, not fry it. Add a dollop of olive oil if the fat seems too little. The bottom of the pan will now get a layer of caramelised meat and flour. Don't worry, this is your stock forming. Just watch that this layer doesn't burn. Keep the temperature low enough.
Once the meat is done, fry the onions in the remaining fat/olive oil. Once the onions go brown, fry the chopped garlic and the chilli, then remove from the pan. Now add the mushrooms and fry them for 30 seconds to a minute. Remove them from the pan as well and keep aside.
Once this is done you may turn the heat to low and add the wine. This will de-glaze the pan and you should have a thick-ish sauce.
Add back the beef cubes and bring to the boil. Now add the chopped carrots, celery and the bacon. Here you may add either boiling water or more wine, as you prefer. The dish needs to simmer in juice, so check it frequently. This simmering must really be just a simmer: very slow indeed. Budget at least two hours and keep the lid tightly on the pan.
Once the meat starts going tender, add the mushrooms and some chopped parsley. Close the lid and wait another twenty minutes or so.
In the meantime you may prepare the accompanying side dish. This may be in the form of pasta, toasted bread, potato mash or any other starchy side dish that you prefer. This is a very juicy dish, so any starch that will absorb sauce will work. I opted for baby potatoes boiled in the skin.
It is always good practice to allow the dish to repose for at least half an hour before dishing up. This will allow the flavours to develop. However, if you have hungry hordes to feed, you may just be outnumbered and swept aside!
Now dish up. Of course, not to forget that you will need at least another bottle of red wine to go with the dish...
Often-times, one hears about a person being a food snob. Specifically food bloggers. I never cared much for such talk, being rather laid back about criticizing other people's efforts. Everyone has a right to do as they please, including preparing food. Until a recent dining experience made me think again about my norms regarding food and dining. The missus and I went out to celebrate an anniversary and decided to splash a bit and have a proper meal without having to clean up afterwards. We had some pre-dinner drinks, then ordered food. I decided on a rare steak. This time around, the establishment got the dish sort of right on the third try. The first one was overdone and the second one was raw. By round three there was no veggies on the plate, only the steak. The worst part was that the missus had finished her food by that time, so I dined alone. Not good. I was about to complain bitterly, then held my thoughts in check. My reason said that the dish could be difficult to make, and perhaps before complaining I should try my hand at the same dish before passing comment. The dish in question was a pan fried fillet, so that set the scene for an experiment at home. The requirements were easy: fifteen minutes time lapse from order to serving a pan fried fillet, rare, complete with side dishes. Now everybody and their mate here in South Africa pride themselves on being able to produce such a dish on the braai. This one had to be cooked in a pan, which makes it slightly more tricky if you are not used to using a pan. I perused the internet via Google, a wonderful source of information. And who better qualified as the Braai Master champions. In this case they actually won the competition by preparing a similar dish to what I had in mind. Steak can be cooked in the oven, in a pan or grilled over coals. All of these methods have their own intricacies and there are tomes written about each. My book on basic methods is quite old, but still has a paragraph or two about preparing steak. The Braai Master winners had a different approach to the cooking process, which I since used in several experiments using other cuts of steak. Needless to say, they all worked very well. The method involves searing the outside of the cut to seal the juices in, then allowing the meat to rest before completing the cooking process. In this way, hardly any juices are lost and the meat cooks in its own juices, making for a very juicy steak. This makes a sauce really superfluous. In my experiments with other cuts, I found that one needs to get a rather thick steak, of about 40 mm/1½ inches thick. The method also works for a thinner steak, but the thick cut makes things easier. Of course, this means that the cut is too large for a single portion. No problem. You cut the meat into 12 mm thick slices before serving. Then guests may choose how much meat they really want. Makes life at the table a bit easier. There is a caveat, though. Sirloin and rump has so much juice, you need to be careful when cutting the meat, as the juices will run all over the table if your cutting board does not have a furrow around the edges. Back to the fillet. For this one I decided on a home-grown rub. Whole spices are ground in a mortar and pestle, after which some coarse salt is added. The coarse salt will be ground to a powdery consistency if ground with the whole spices. This will make the steak too salty, so take care with the sequence of the work. The steak can be fried in real butter and herbs in the pan, which will make the dish really rich. The choice is yours.
Sear in a very hot dry pan
Before the time we prepared spicy rice, garnished with onions, sweet pepper, carrots and mushrooms fried together to serve as the main side to the steak. This was accompanied by steamed cauliflower and broccoli with a Hollandaise sauce. All prepared while the steak was resting. Bear in mind that the experiment was about preparing a dish similar to what one would expect in an upmarket restaurant, in the same time frame.
So here goes.
Pan fried beef fillet with vegetables and Hollandaise sauce
500g fillet steak Dollop of olive oil Dollop of butter
For the rub
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds ½ teaspoon whole cumin (jeera) seeds 1 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns some coarse salt to taste
For the Hollandaise sauce
1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice 2 dessert spoons water 2 dessert spoons real butter small pinch of salt 1 dessert spoon chopped fresh parsley Cauliflower and broccoli rosettes for two servings (About 300g)
Juices sealed in, resting away from heat
Take the meat out of the refrigerator and allow to settle to room temperature. Pat the cut completely dry, else the meat will not brown. Heat a dry pan to very high heat. Make the rub by grinding all the whole dry spices in a mortar. When the spices are ground fine enough to your taste, add the coarse salt. I used Malden salt. Roll the meat in the rub. When the pan is sufficiently hot, sear the steak in the pan all around for thirty seconds. Not longer. Then dab a dollop of olive oil on the meat, making sure that the cut is covered all around. Hold the meat over the open flame to cause the oil to flame. This will sear the outside of the meat and seal in the juices and flavours. This should last for about fifteen seconds only. Quite fast. Now remove the steak from all heat and set it aside to rest while you prepare the Hollandaise sauce and the veggies. It does not matter if the steak goes stone cold during this time. It will cook and the temperature will settle while still hot. You have now shocked the meat, not cooked it. The final cooking comes later. Turn down the heat and allow the pan to cool to medium heat.
Cut the large steak into thinner strips
The veggies are steamed in a colander over a little water in a saucepan. While this is on the go, you make the Hollandaise sauce. Add the egg yolk, butter, water and lemon juice to a small saucepan. You can use vinegar instead of lemon juice, but then the sauce is called Bearnaise sauce, so I am told. Heat this very slowly while stirring vigorously. The sauce must not be lumpy. I don't have a double cooker, so this is how I prepare the sauce. Take the pan away from the heat if things seem to get too hot. If this sauce boils, you start over. By the time the sauce is ready the steak would have rested sufficiently. You now put the steak back in the frying pan and gently fry it to your taste. This may be tricky, as the meat is now sealed and hardly any juice will come out to give an indication of how far it has cooked. The meat will also be quite stiff and my look bloated as a result of the steam trapped inside. Here is where one may add some butter and herbs if you prefer a different flavour. This should not take more that five to eight minutes. We are still within the restaurant time frame. Allow the meat to rest again before cutting it into strips. You may need to warm it again slightly if the weather is cold. Or use a heated plate.
Now dish up and enjoy the fruits of your efforts. This dish goes very well with a full bodied red wine and a loved one to make a romantic dinner.
Then, the next day, come tell me all about being a food snob... Bon Appetit! Authored by Johan Zietsman Last updated on 2016-04-06
Real men don't eat quiche. Indeed. This was the title of an article in a girlie magazine of way back when. The idea was reiterated recently in a local beer ad here in South Africa that had it that real men don't drink pink drinks.
The idea probably rides on the macho image of South Africans as serious meat eaters. I tend to agree, but certainly took this magazine article as a challenge. The same sort of challenge that our English language teacher posed to us in class on the subject of essay themes.
He would set us a theme, then add that it stands us free to rather write an essay under the title “My Dog Spot” instead. He offered to then mark such essay accordingly. I often toyed with the idea of writing such essay in addition to the regular set theme, then hand it in, marked as my entry to his challenge. Sadly, I never did. It would have been a great opportunity to write something extraordinary and creative on such an inane subject. A chance to really think up something with a twist.
On a recent upcountry road trip we chanced to stop for lunch in the delightful town of Senekal in the Free State province. It was a balmy day and we were on our way to the stopover at Colesberg, still some distance away. At the bottle store we made enquiries as to a quiet place for a light lunch and was directed to a local coffee shop where we had the most delicious quiche imaginable.
The old magazine article immediately sprung to mind and the idea of a challenge was born. Busting some myths, no less.
Real men don't eat quiche. Yea, right.
So, having taken up the challenge, I did some searching on the internet and found, as usual, a myriad of recipes. There are plenty examples of quiche using various vegetables as well. Having taken bold the step of going outside of manly machismo, I decided to make a classic quiche, just because of the value of the challenge. Perhaps also because it is the festive season and holiday weather here in the Cape. And, after all, it is some form of culinary adventure. The recipe is adapted from several on the internet, with a view of having a classic rich version that is easy to make.
Here is my humble attack on the myth of real men not eating quiche.
Quiche Lorraine a la The Hungry Sailor.
For the crust
1 cup cake flour
1/3 cup real butter or shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 dessert spoons water as required.
For the filling
250 ml cream
250 ml full fat cottage cheese
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
Sprig of parsley, chopped
½ of a medium size onion, grated
1 cup bacon, diced
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
We start with the crust. I made this one in an aluminium foil pie dish, as I do not possess a porcelain or stoneware version. Dice and chill the butter. Mix the flour and salt, then rub the butter into the flour. Add just enough water to make it the consistency of dry wall plaster or dry-ish plasticine. It should not be runny at all. Spray the pie dish with a suitable release agent or butter the dish. Line the pie dish with the dough, pressing it down and making sure it has an even thickness all around. Roll it out flat if you want to. Park this in the refrigerator while the oven heats up.
The oven should be heated to 200ºC/400ºF. Bake the cold crust for ten minutes, then remove from the oven. Allow the crust to cool. Remember that it is now very brittle, so don't bump it.
The filling is prepared as follows: Fry the bacon lightly until almost done, then drain on a piece of paper towel. Grate the onion and drain it on some paper towel as well. You don't want too much of the onion water in your filling. If you have reservations of grating the onion, just chop it finely, like I did. The onions go into the filling raw, so you don't want large pieces.
Mix the cottage cheese and cream thoroughly. Add in the eggs. You may beat the cream beforehand till it just goes slightly stiff. Now mix in the onion and parsley and add some nutmeg to taste.
Building the final product is easy. Spread the bacon in the bottom of the crust, then pour in the cream and cheese mix. Sprinkle some grated cheddar cheese on top, along with a whiff of smoked paprika.
Carefully put this assembly into the oven at 180ºC/350ºF. If you think you may have a mishap and break the crust or spill the filling, assemble the quiche on the oven rack itself. It may make your life easier. Use an oven pan under the dish, as it may spill as it cooks. Now bake this for about 20-25 minutes. Allow the quiche to cool down properly before attempting to cut it. It is good when warm, but it will be quite brittle and soft when you take it out of the oven.
This quiche was easy to make, my first one. It is quite tasty and not nearly as rich as one would imagine. Goes well with a fresh garden salad. This dish can be eaten cold as well.
Having a small family is sometimes a hindrance to a food blogger. With just the missus and myself, things get tricky when thinking up new ways to prepare food, given the small quantity required.
The normal way around the problem is to invite friends or family over for dinner. However, that avenue has its own dangers, not the least of which is the cost of having a weekly “Come dine with me” episode playing off in your humble abode.
After some thinking and taking into account that I am under orders not to make another stewed dish, I came up with the idea of a slow roast. This one conjures up visions of a piglet, complete with apple in the mouth and so on. My humble budget does not stretch that far and I have this suspicion that most people do not have an oven that big anyway.
So, after some more reasoning, the idea formed that one can make a roast without having to buy a whole leg or shoulder cut. Chops will do if you stack them in a solid pile. One is then able to purchase only enough for the guests in the house, as you can buy chops in individual portions. Having said this, one should realise that the stack of meat should be sufficiently bulky to resemble a whole shoulder, for example.
In my case I opted for the cheapest lamb or mutton chops I could lay my hands on. Shoulder and leg chops will do just fine. The reasoning is that the slow roasting process will take care of any toughness anyway.
Having decided on the process and the cuts, the world is open for deciding on the style and flavours. If you have a tagine at hand, that will work brilliantly, the lid keeping the juices inside and allowing for a slow steaming process. I do not own such equipment, so I used a ceramic baking dish of suitable size. The dish has no lid, so I just covered it with some aluminium foil. A cast iron pot or saucepan will also do, as these come with a lid.
That takes care of your cooking utensils.
As for flavours, I decided on a Persian style spicing. I like the spicy flavours, but again I am under orders to prepare some less spicy dishes. This one has a perfumed spicing, very flavourful and quite rich. It goes well with the fatty meat cuts. The recipe is adapted from the book Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour. A welcome birthday present and addition to my library from my son and his fiance.
I was not able to find all the spices listed in the recipe, so I substituted some after some discussion with my local spice merchant. The lime powder was substituted with dried citrus peel. This dried citrus peel is of my own making, being mandarin orange and satsuma peel that I dried in the oven, then blitzed in the blender.
Edible dried rose petals are also not really a part of the local cuisine, so I substituted rose water, which most larger grocers sell here in South Africa.
Sumac was something new to me, not having heard of it before. It turns out to be ground-up berries of the Anacardiaceae family of plants in the Rhus genus. Check it out on Wikipedia and on the Spice House web site.
This dish was served with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. I kept the portions medium to small, as the meat came out very rich. You may want to make this dish when the neighbours are all at home; it will count as psychological torture! The flavours emanating from the kitchen are really something special, as is the taste.
Spice Perfumed Poor Man's Roast
1 kg lamb/mutton shoulder or leg chops
1 heaped tablespoon sumac
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried & ground citrus peel
2 tablespoon rose water
some salt flakes
some cooking oil
Mix the spices thoroughly, then add some oil to make it into a paste. Add the rose water and mix well. The spices will ensure that the rose water/oil mix does not separate. Cut the sinews and fat layers of the chops to stop them from curling up during the cooking process. Coat each piece of meat thoroughly and stack them tightly in the baking dish. Add some salt flakes between layers. Cover the dish with aluminium foil or put the lid on. Allow this to marinate for and hour or so. In this case you have lots of thin layers, so it is possible to overdo the marinating time.
Set the oven to 160°C/320°F and pop the roast in the oven for three to four hours. By this time the meat should be almost falling off the bones. No need to use a knife here, you flake the meat using two forks.
This I served with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables steamed over the boiling potatoes. A simple dish with lots of flavour and very little work in the kitchen. It gave me time to enjoy a glass or two of red wine with the missus.