Chicken sumac sandwich (Courtesy of David Hammond)

When I was a Boy Scout, the only sumac I knew about was Poison Sumac, so the first time I saw this ingredient on a menu, I was intrigued.

There is, of course, a difference between the kind of sumac that grows in Chicago forest preserves and the spice that’s found in some Middle Eastern food. One may cause a severe allergic reaction and the other adds a slight citrus note.

Sumac is sprinkled over hummus, onions, rice, and in the case of the sandwich I had at Grape Leaves in Oak Park for lunch yesterday, chicken.  I like sumac. It’s a subtle spice, and I don’t have it often, so it’s a novelty.

Oddly, the sandwich of chicken with slightly sour sumac was filled with slices of lemon, adding to the overall acid trip of a lunch. I wasn’t sure if this lemon was mistakenly included in my sandwich, but there was a lot in there. The sandwich was listed on the menu as being made of “chicken breast,” but mine was mostly dark meat, which was more than fine with me, but also strange.

Equally strange: babaganoush seemed to be drizzled with vinegar rather than lemon, yielding a not very pleasant flavor profile.


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David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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