“Zhoug is an endlessly versatile condiment. A Middle Eastern herb and chilli paste, it adds a grassy kick of heat…”
Frankie Unsworth, The New Art of Cooking
The Saucy Dressings’ chief correspondent has recently been travelling in Israel, and reported back about a memorable dish of cauliflower with tahini, boiled egg, and homemade zhug which she enjoyed at the trend-setting Night Kitchen in Tel Aviv.
Homemade zhug? What a fabulous name – what on earth could it be?
Where does it come from and what other names does it have?
It turns out that zhug is not originally Israeli. It’s a Yemeni dish (in fact a yemenite jewish recipe taken to Israel by Jews), also known throughout the middle east as skhug, s’chug, sahawiq, s’rug, zhoug or (particularly in the Persian gulf) as daqqus.
What other types are there?
Essentially it’s a sort hot and fiery salsa verde – although there are (as for pestos) different coloured versions – red (using red chillies), brown (with tomatoes added), smoked, and, like pesto, ground with cheese.
Best made with a pestle and mortar
And, again, like a pesto, this sauce is best made in a pestle and mortar. I know some people may think this piece of equipment belongs to the dark ages, but there is no denying that, old technology or no, this is the device best able to develop the flavours of the herbs and spices which this sauce combines.
The many ways it can be used
This is a great and adaptable sauce for plain grilled fish, meat, chicken…and, as Night Kitchen serves it, with vegetables. You can add it to sandwiches, wraps and stuffed pitta rolls. It can also be used to jazz up a salad dressing. This sauce if usually served with falafel (deep fried balls of ground chick peas and broad beans). Or try it with garlic-roasted chick peas and a yoghurt and pomegranate molasses sauce. You can even simply spice up a straightforward flatbread with it.
Does it really need caraway?
Some people (Ottolenghi) also add caraway, but honestly, cumin and caraway are not that dissimilar (see So What Is The Difference Between Cumin and Caraway), it’s not really in tune with the middle-eastern roots of the sauce, and it is just one more ingredient to find, so it is not included in this, Saucy Dressings, version.
How long will it keep?
Zhug will keep three or four weeks, with a thin film of olive oil on its surface, in the fridge. It will also freeze.
Short of time?
You can buy a dried version from Steenberg’s which you mix with olive oil for form a sauce.
Recipe for a mild zhug
Enough for about four people
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 3 tsps black cumin seeds – if yours is not black that is fine
- 2 tsps coriander seeds
- 60g/2 oz fresh coriander
- 60g/2 oz fresh parsley
- 2 fresh green chillies – I prefer to use a mild variety rather than the in-your-face jalapeño. If you like your sauces hot you could double this amount. Deseed these and chop finely.
- 1 lemon – juice and zest of
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 1 tsp textured rock or sea salt
- 1 tsp pepper corns
- Dry fry the seeds of the cardamom pods, and the other two seeds for three or four minutes.
- Put them into a pestle and mortar together with the salt and the pepper corns.
- Add the garlic, and pound again.
- Add the chillies, and pound again.
- Chop the parsley and the coriander – you can include some of the stems. OK, if you are short of time, you can do this in a grinder/blender.
- Add to the pestle and mortar and continue pounding.
- Grate in the lemon zest.
- Slowly add the olive oil, pounding and mixing in all the time.
- Add the lemon juice, again, pounding and mixing.