Roasted Potatoes with Sumac and Spruce Tips

Roasted potatoes are so simple and good, they make a great canvas for all kinds of things. Such as... two of my favorite foraged treats, sumac and spruce tips!

Spruce tips are the tiny little bundles of bright green new leaves that grow on spruce trees in spring. They have a lovely citrusy flavor, especially if you harvest them in the spring, before they even break out of their papery brown husks. Around here, spruce trees only grow at the very top of the mountain, about 10,000 feet (the Sandias have seven different life zones from the bottom to the top!) Last year I cooked salmon with them, as well as making spruce salt and spruce sugar to use later.

Sumac is a spice commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking, made by grinding the berries of Rhus coriaria, or Tanner's Sumac. We have a different species here called Three-Leaf Sumac, which looks very different, but the berries have a similar tangy flavor. It's also called Lemonade Bush, or Skunkbush Sumac (which I don't understand, because it's really not stinky). It grows in the forest understory on the east side of the Sandias, at about 7000 feet. There's also a fine specimen in the native plant garden at our Natural History Museum for reference. The best time to harvest them is in the summer when the berries mature, but they keep!

Since sumac and spruce tips both have an oddly citrusy flavor, I thought I'd try them together:

1 lb potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp ground sumac berries (you could also just use the Middle Eastern sumac)
1 tsp spruce tip salt (or 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp chopped fresh spruce tips)

Preheat oven to 450F. Bring some water to boil in a 2-quart saucepan, add the potatoes, and cook about 10 minutes, until they are about half-done. There should still be a firm white spot in the middle if you cut one, so that they don't get overdone in the oven.

Drain the potatoes and shake them around in the colander a bit to rough up the outside (this makes for lovely crispy edges once they're roasted). Toss with oil in a rimmed baking sheet or cast iron skillet. Roast for about 40 minutes until they are golden brown, turning once during the cooking. Toss the potatoes with the salt, sumac, and spruce tips immediately after taking them out of the oven, so that the mixture sticks to them. Serves 2.


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