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… as tricky to spell as it is to pronounce.
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 long green chilli peppers
1 bulb of garlic
2 heaped tablespoons ground cumin
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.