Cucumber tomato salad with sumac (Iraq)

Iraq is a large country in Middle East, with about 36 million inhabitants, most of them Muslims. Almost 10 million live in the capital of Baghdad. Iraq contains the region of Ancient Mesopotamia, often considered the birthplace of human civilization. The population has been estimated as 30 million already in year 800! These days Iraq is unfortunately better known for recent wars, Saddam Hussein and ISIS. The country mostly consists of desert and mountains, but the deltas of the legendary rivers Tigris and Euphrates also allow for plentiful agriculture. Oil is, of course, a very important export and Iraq has the second largest remaining oil reserves in the world. One of the main problems is the lack of housing and the country is struggling to build enough new homes. The most important form of culture is maqam, traditional sung poetry.

The history of Iraqi cuisine goes back as far as 10,000 years. Old “cookbooks”, written on clay tablets, have been found in ancient ruins. Like Middle Eastern cuisines in general, vegetables (e.g. tomatoes, okra, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini and peppers), cereals (especially basmati rice and bulgur wheat), legumes, nuts and seeds (e.g. sesame seeds, pistachios, almonds and walnuts) and fresh and dried fruit (e.g. dates, raisins, apricots, citrus fruit and pomegranates) form an important part of the cuisine. Lamb and chicken are also popular and fish, beef and cheeses are eaten too. Food tends to be flavourful and aromatic, thanks to the aforementioned ingredients, tamarind, olives, olive oil, spices and herbs. The latter include thyme, parsley, oregano, mint, dill, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, fenugreek and saffron. Mezza is a collection of salads, dips, pickled vegetables and finger foods. Other popular types of dishes include e.g. stews, casseroles, skewers, pastries and the originally Indian rice dish biryani. Desserts are often flavoured with nuts, rosewater and honey.

I try to avoid posting very similar dishes in a row, but now I’ve posted another cold salad. Well, it is summer? Found on, this is a very simple salad, but the addition of sumac makes it special and delicious. I’ve had sumac in my cupboard for many years, but for some reason I never thought to use it like this. I thought the result would be too tart, but it’s not, even though tartness is the main flavour of sumac. You can find it in Middle Eastern stores. It is also used in za’atar, a mixture of herbs, sesame seeds and sumac. The salad should be eaten pretty quickly, as the acidity in the sumac starts to pickle the cucumber. So if you don’t have many eaters, maybe don’t make a full portion.

Sumac salad

Iraqi sumac salad

1 large cucumber
1 large tomato
1/4 medium onion (or red onion)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sumac
salt to taste

Cut the cucumbers in half. length-wise. Slice these halves into thin semi-circles. Cut the tomato into chunks. Cut the onion into long slices. Mix all the vegetables together in a salad bowl. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the salad and add the sumac and salt to taste. Mix well and serve immediately.

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