Zhoug (aka Zhug) is a magnificently fiery condiment originating in Yemen, a country of amazing antiquity (the original kingdom of the Queen of Sheba, BTW) and extraordinarily delicious cuisine.
Sadly, Yemenite cuisine is rarely known outside its home country, except in Israel (which became the home for the entire Yemenite Jewish community in a fascinating secret evacuation in 1949 called Operation Magic Carpet which brought all 49,000 of them to Israel).
As a result, Yemenite cuisine is enthusiastically enjoyed by Israelis today – and Zhoug has in fact become a national institution! You literally can’t order a street falafel without it and Zhoug deserves to be discovered here in the States and elsewhere.
There is no canonical recipe for Zhoug, which means there are thousands of different versions, all riffing off the same leitmotif of basic ingredients (typically Cilantro, garlic, hot peppers and oil). My version is – immodestly – the best I’ve ever tasted and my Israeli friends are in accordance.
My version of Zhoug includes a small amount of mint which is only used by a fractional number of Yemeni from the southern part of the country, but which I find really enhances the taste. Omit if you choose, per the recipe. My version also includes classic Yemeni spices such as cumin, coriander and cardamom.
There is basically nothing that Zhoug doesn’t improve – you can refer to it as “Yemeni Salsa” which is not an inaccurate description. Use it just as you would any salsa or spicy green sauce: on eggs, falafel, chips, slathered on meat or just eaten straight (as I do). 🙂
Yemeni cookbook authors Zion Levi and Hani Agabria write: “Spicy zhoug is a source of pride among the Yemenite population. Made with the sharpest of chili peppers, it is eaten with classically oriental Jewish meals.”
“More than just a condiment, zhoug is a tradition. Yemenites believe that daily consumption of zhoug wards off disease and strengthens the heart. Zhoug can be an addition to salads and a sauce for various kinds of meat, fish, and poultry dishes.”
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 cup of fresh Coriander, including stems
⅔ cup of fresh parsley, including stems
⅓ cup fresh mint leaves (or omit and use 1 cup parsley instead)
7 (use more or less depending on your spice tolerance) Jalapenos, stem ends removed
3 serranos, stemmed
8 garlic cloves
¾ teaspoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander seeds
Seeds from 5 cardamom pods
½ teaspoon salt (add more if needed)
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper (add more if needed)
About 3 tablespoons of olive oil (add more if needed)
Fresh juice from ½ a small lime
Finely grind the cardamom pods and caraway seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, then sift to remove the husks.
Grind all in a food processor to a paste – cover and store in the refrigerator.