Salata hara, or ‘hot salad’, is perhaps the most common condiment served with local food in the Persian Gulf.
Salata hara accompanies chicken, lamb, fish, and rice dishes to wash them down with a saucy kick.
It is very similar to Mexican fresh salsa, though the Arabian-style salata hara is made with green birds eye chili (or local, less spicy versions of a green chili) as opposed to jalapeno peppers. Salata hara also contains a few different spices.
But it’s just as easy to whip up as a Mexican salsa, provided you have a blender and some fresh vegetables on hand (you could very easily make this without a blender – slicing and dicing the vegetables – it will just take a little longer).
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.
In the United Arab Emirates, fresh hot sauce can be hard to find. Unless, of course, you’re headed to Happy Yemen restaurant in Abu Dhabi, which proudly serves mouth-watering, Arabian-style spicy salsa.
Not that finding Happy Yemen itself is easy (see map below).
Happy Yemen is no-nonsense and utilitarian, and at first glance it seems like a take-away joint. But squeeze past the refrigerator and the cash register, and the space opens into two small rooms, with additional family-style floor seating up a narrow flight of stairs.