A few years ago I became completely smitten with Zhoug sauce. Introduced to it by the fabulous Bonnie Stern during one of her cooking classes, I haven’t stopped making it since. Much like my beloved chimichurri, this sauce does not last long in my fridge. I slather it with abandon on everythingfrom grilled chicken or fish, grilled veggies, to breads, pizza (yes pizza), scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, or as an extra, extra topping to shakshuka.
So fresh, so vibrant, there really is nothing I can think of that doesn’t benefit from drizzles of this wildly fragrant sauce. I just know you’ll love it too.
What is Zhoug?
Zhoug is a spicy, intensely flavoured condiment originating from Yemen and hugely popular in Israel. It is believed the Yementie Jews brought Zhoug to Israel when they were fleeing from political persecution in the early 1950’s.
The Yemenite sauce is made with lots of blended fresh cilantro, chilis, oil, and garlic, and spiced with cumin, coriander, and cardamom. Zhoug sauce is very similar in texture to Chermoula, chicmichurri, or salsa verde. The key difference is the warming spices and very hot chilis used to make Zhoug. In Israel, you will always be served Zhoug alongside falafel, shawarma, and many other street food, or homemade dishes.
I have heard Zhoug – also known as zhug – pronounced as s-h-a-w-g, but there are likely many variations on how it is spelled and pronounced.
Ingredients And Notes
Zhoug is made with just a few ingredients so make sure your ground spices are nice and fresh or the sauce will lack flavour.
To coax the freshest flavour out of the herbs and spices, Yemenite Jews would prepare Zhoug using two stones to pound the ingredients. Now, of course, for easier preparation, we can use a mortar and pestle, or a food processor. I like to use a small food processor but pulsing the mixture, rather than fully blending it, will result in the best texture.
Here’s the ingredients you’ll need:
- Cilantro – You will need one very large bunch of fresh cilantro and you can use the thin stems. If you absolutely hate cilantro, consider making another green sauce such as this one.
- Hot green chilis – I use jalapeños because they are easy to find. I use 3, seeds removed, which results in a spicy, but tolerant heat level.
- Garlic – I use 4 cloves of garlic but you can use less if you prefer.
- Ground cumin – For authentic though sauce flavour.
- Ground cardamom – The warm, floral-citrus flavour of cardamom plays beautifully with the herbal notes of cilantro. If you don’t have any cardamom, you can use ground coriander, or a very tiny pinch of cloves. Neither is the perfect substitute but the point is to introduce a bit more flavour to the sauce.
- Extra-virgin olive oil – Use the best you can here. It truly makes a difference.
- Salt and pepper – To season.
- Crushed red pepper – Optional if you want a little more heat.
Can I make it ahead?
You can make Zhoug sauce up to 2 days ahead. Longer than that, I find the flavours have mellowed too much and the vibrant colour has dulled.
Can I freeze Zhoug sauce?
The beauty of this sauce is how fresh and vibrant it is so I would not recommend freezing Zhoug.
Can I use different herbs?
I have only ever made Zhoug with just cilantro, which seems to be the traditional way to make it. Some recipes for Zhoug call for part cilantro and part parsley, but I have never heard of it made without any cilantro.
Good To Know Tips
- Adjust the heat level. Zhoug is supposed to be spicy. Like very spicy. That said, if you prefer it a little more mild, make sure you deseed the chilis but save the seeds. Once you taste it, if you’d like it spicier, add in more seeds or a pinch of crushed red pepper.
- The flavour and spice will mellow. If you taste the sauce as soon as you make it, it might seem a little too spicy and intense. However, as it sits the flavours will mellow and soften considerably.
- Add a little lemon juice. I don’t always add it, but a few tablespoons of lemon juice will help keep the green colour vibrant for a little longer.
- Don’t make a large batch. This sauce is truly best enjoyed the day you make it, or 2 days later, at most. This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups which I find is perfect for using up within two days.
- Store with a layer of olive oil. As mentioned, the sauce keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 days. To best preserve its flavour and colour, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface and cover tightly.
Uses For Zhoug Sauce
You can treat this Zhoug sauce exactly as you would a salsa verde, or even a pesto.
Here are a few fantastic ideas on how to use it:
- Drizzle it over falafel.
- Mix it with yogurt and use as a veggie dip.
- Spoon it over grilled (or roasted) meat, fish, or veggies.
- Alongside scrambled, fried or poached eggs.
- Amazing with any steak.
- Mix with a little more olive oil and use as a salad dressing.
- Drizzled over thickly-sliced summer tomatoes (huge favourite).
- As a topping for flatbreads, pizza, or focaccia.
- Delicious in sandwiches or burgers.
- Tossed with warm chickpeas.
- With pan-fried halloumi – yum!
- Stirred into rice, or grains.
- Swirl it into soups or stews.
If you give this Zhoug sauce recipe a try, please feel free to leave a comment and/or a star rating below. We appreciate and welcome all your feedback. Thank you!
- 4 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 3 medium jalapeños, stemmed, seeds and inner veins removed, and chopped (reserve the seeds)
- 3 cups packed cilantro - from 1 large or 2 medium-size bunches use the thin stems and leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon *cardamom
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more if necessary
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper optional
- Place the garlic and jalapeño in a small food processor and process until they are in small pieces. Add the cilantro and pulse until mixture is fairly smooth but still has a bit of texture.
- Add the cumin, cardamom, salt, and olive oil and pulse 3-4 times, just until incorporated.
- Taste and add more salt if needed, or more chili seeds, or crushed red pepper to make it spicier. Stir in a little more olive oil if the mixture is too thick.
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