Fiery and fresh: a relish from Yemen

Before you shrug and scroll on, this is not pesto. This is a potent, fiery, fresh hit of a relish, and it’s from Yemen. It’s zhoug. I’ve tried to write how you say it, but impossible. Mainly because I can barely actually say it so…

Yemenite food is entrenched in Israel. Or I should say Yemenite Jewish food, because there is a difference. What is great about zhoug is its nose-scrunching cumin-chilli-salt potency, blitzed up with fresh, fragrant coriander. In Israel, you can get it everywhere. I’ve eaten it alongside this airy crumpet-esque pancake with egg cooked in the middle (sensational!) and with jachnun – layers of pastry and butter or margarine, rolled up and slow-cooked overnight until it’s deep brown, buttery sweet and looks like a sausage. Try it before you knock it. Zhoug is served as a condiment, often with grated tomatoes to be eaten together.

lachouch

It’s also good drizzled on pizza, with eggs, or slathered into a pitta with houmous and falafel, or with roasted potatoes or with chicken, or with anything really.

Zhoug is a good way to use those pesky herb stalks that often end up in the bin, much like pesto, salsa verde or whatever herby relish/spread/condiment you care to dabble with. Throw the whole lot of coriander in, and if you have a bit of parsley that needs using, chuck that in the mix too. Herb stalks hold as much flavour as the leaf, so it’s a shame to waste them as we often too. For more ideas on using the stalks and all, click here. Alternatively, if you can’t get hold of fresh herbs or you want your zhoug to last longer, leave the coriander out altogether. It won’t have that lovely freshness, but the pungent hit of cumin and chilli is sometimes what the mood calls for.

garlicchilli

Depending on who makes it, zhoug can differ in consistency. Some like it thick and potent, others opt out of the fresh herbs altogether, others add more oil for better spoonability. This one is a bit in the middle. I’ll leave you to decide how much oil you add, or indeed how much of anything. Keep tasting as you go until it’s just how you like it. But take heed, it should be just the right side – but not quite – of sneeze-inducing.

shoug3

I ate this zhoug with boiled eggs that were cooked slowly in a pot of onion peelings (of course!) but more on that next week. For now, enjoy zhoug with any old egg. It will rock yer socks off.

zhoug4

Yemenite zhoug

4 long green chilli peppers
1 bulb of garlic
2 heaped tablespoons ground cumin
olive oil
3 large bunches of fresh coriander

Trim the chillies (leave the seeds in) and peel the garlic, then add to a food processor with the cumin, 1 tablespoon of sea salt and a little oil. I used about 50ml but you might find this too much or too little, so add it gradually. Blitz to a paste. Add the coriander leaves and stalks, then blitz again until smooth. Taste and add more salt, cumin or oil to your taste. Store in jars and keep in the fridge for the weeks to come.

Till next time…
For more herby condiments that use the whole herb (stalks and all), here’s a good salsa verde recipe. Or head to Bosnia for another delicious spicy relish.

6 comments

  1. Yemenite-jewish food , nice to see it’s spreading out of Israel. First I must say that the classic Zechug is without oil! Second there are two kinds green and red. For the red one we use dry red chillies (soaked in water till soft then clean from seeds and stem) , garlic, salt and spices :black pepper, cumin,cardemon,cloves.T he classic green is with the same spices but not the same amount.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing! I have seen so many different versions across Israel that it seems to be forever evolving depending who makes it. I’d love to try this with cardamom and cloves too. Do you use less than you would cumin or similar amounts?

  2. […] until completely black and blitzed them up with prunes for a sweet, spicy relish. We’ve made zhoug and roasted more vegetables than I can […]

  3. Hi. it’s allways nice to share thoughs, knowledge and recipes about food ,I think the reason for oil is in order to keep it longer.
    This recipe is taken from a cookbook written by Sue Larky “yemenite jewish cooking”(published in hebrew only )
    30 grams dry chillies or 60 grams fresh red chillies(if using dry soak in water till soft and take out seeds and stem)
    5 big cloves of garlic roughly chopped
    0.25 hipped tsp salt
    0.25 tsp ground black pepper
    0.5 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp ground cardemon (seeds only)
    0.25 tsp ground cloves
    1-2 tbsp water
    Blitz in a food processor with pulses to a pesto texture, the spice-mixture gives the perfect marriage to this hot paste.
    here’s a link to an english artical about this beautiful book http://www.haaretz.com/news/cooking-not-by-jahnun-alone-1.4562
    Keep on traveling, cooking and writing it looks like a great fun !

    1. This sounds like an amazing book. I’ve just looked and cant find it in English, which is a shame. I’m going to try this recipe out though. Thanks for telling me about it 🙂

  4. one last thing ( ;
    Ronit Vered is the best food journalist in Israel read some of her articales here : http://www.haaretz.com/misc/search-results
    just put her name by keyword/s
    Enjoy it !

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