Red Zhug (Yemenite Hot Sauce)
Green and Red Zhug are the the prevalent table seasonings in a yemeni house hold. Yes Zhug is spicy but it is also bright with lemon juice and has a depth of flavor beyond compare. It might just give Sriracha a run for its money.
One July night in Israel my boyfriend, Hanaan took me to a friend’s house for a classic Yemenite feast. Yemenis don’t eat, or snack or sup, they feast. Their fridge might contain a crust of bread. Yet when you sit down at their rickity kitchen table and share that crust of bread, as ululating songs pour from the old transistor in the corner, you will find that when you rise from it three hours later full from laughter and stories, that you have indeed feasted.
We were but fledglings in love (he 18, me 19) the night we arrived for Shabbat dinner in a neighboring town. As we sat down at the dinner table with three generations of family; the grandmother/matriarch took it upon herself to test my worthiness.
In European fairytales one’s gentility is tested through piling mattress upon mattress onto a single hard pea. If your princess’ tender body is unable to sleep on such a rough object she is worthy to be wedded to the prince.
Not so in the modern Yemenite household. Out came the home-made Green Zhug. Grandma toyed with me by putting a hearty spoonful on her plate as she warned me off from even tasting it.
“Oh no, don’t try this it is much too hot for an American.”
My boyfriend Hanaan reached for the jar, placed a dab on his bread, took a nibble and began fanning his mouth.
Grandma cackled, she actually cackled, it is rare to hear a good cackle in real life.
I could smell the Zhug’s heady aroma from where I sat. I spooned some onto my bread and took a bite. All eyes were on me. I moaned in pleasure as I bit into my food. Wow this shit was amazing. I scooped more onto my plate and dug into my meal.
Grandma nodded knowingly and left the table. When she returned she held a glittering ruby the size of a grown man’s fist…No not really. What she held in her gnarled hands was a glass jar half full with a paste more beautiful than rubies. She stood by my chair and deftly place a tiny mound of Red Zhug on the edge of my plate. A hush fell over the boisterous table. I reached out and with my bread mopped up the whole serving and boldly popped it in my mouth. Yes there was heat but it was mitigated by the floral bloom of coriander, and the dusky taste of cumin.
I smiled. She smiled. The table smiled.
Grandma placed her hand on my shoulder and spoke to Hanaan.
Why use store bought hot sauce when you can make this incredible condiment in less than 10 minutes and have a far superior product? Once you make Red Zhug you will find yourself putting it on absolutely everything.
- 1/4 pound spicy red peppers
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup cilantro packed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp powdered cumin
- 3-4 tbsp good quality olive oil
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Stem and half your peppers and and put them in the food processor.
Halve your garlic cloves and place in food processor with the salt, lemon juice and cumin.
Rinse and dry your cilantro and give it a rough chop. Place it as well into the food processor.
Pulse until you have paste that retains a bit of texture. Place the red Zhug in a bowl and stir in the olive oil.
Store in the refrigerator it will keep for weeks.