One of the best hot sauces on the planet comes from Yemen, a nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
It’s called zhug, a fiery chili pepper paste that is both rich in flavor and spicy enough to require a tall glass of water on hand while eating. The main ingredient in zhug is the serrano, which can be a fairly hot chili depending on the individual pepper. The other two main flavors come from garlic – there is a lot of it in zhug – and cumin.
Zhug is starting to get more recognition on the international stage, though it’s already quite popular in the Middle East. It can be found at Yemeni restaurants across the region (see here, for example). It’s also very popular in Israel; zhug was brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews as they immigrated in the last half century. Today, zhug is a common condiment in Israeli street food, commonly spooned onto falafel and shwarma sandwiches.
Indeed, zhug goes well as a savory spread with just about anything: salads, chicken, meat, fish, eggs, and any type of sandwich or wrap. The only trouble is that its very difficult to find the green hot sauce for sale in grocery stores, especially outside of the Middle East.
So here is a simple, step-by-step illustrated recipe for making quick and easy batch of zhug at home with minimal ingredients. Note: there are many, many ways to make zhug (some Yemenis, for example, blend mint leaves into the mix) – this is just one example.
15-20 serrano peppers
1 bunch fresh cilantro (also known as coriander)
6 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
Step 1: Slice the serrano peppers in half, then remove the seeds and membrane (the hottest part of the pepper). If you like your salsa spicier, use whole peppers for this zhug (not recommended). Warning: consider using gloves and protective eyewear while cutting these peppers. Depending on the pepper, serranos can burn.
Step 2: Put the cilantro in the food processor first. Then add the sliced serranos and peeled garlic. After that, add the cumin and the salt. Finally, squeeze the lime into the mix.
Step 3: Blend on high for about 30 seconds. The mix should have a thick and chunky consistency.
Step 4: Add the olive oil and blend again for a few seconds.
You may need to add more salt to taste. But that’s it – you’ve got fresh, homemade zhug. Enjoy!