Sunday, 27 January 2008

zhoug, spicy yemeni sauce

Zhoug is a spicy Yemenite condiment made from chilli, coriander, garlic and spices. It starts out as a spice blend, then adds wet ingredients to create a sauce that can last a month or so in the fridge if sealed with oil.

I amalgamate the sauce in a blender, but the traditional way is to use a mortar and pestle.

I tried zhoug for the first time in Israel, where it has become a really popular condiment on the Israeli national snack, falafels. I became quite addicted to this sauce and would pile it onto my falafel-stuffed pita rolls.

Others seemed to like it too and I remember one woman splashed the green liquid all over my arm in her excitement. Although I couldn’t understand what she was saying to me, I knew from her red face and giggling that it was an accident.

In Yemen, it is eaten with bread or provides a spicy topping to stews. You could also use it as a marinade or sauce with beef, lamb or fish.

Anna’s very own recipe. Makes ½ cup sauce.

½ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 green cardamom pod
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove
2 fresh red chillies
1 cup fresh coriander, leaves and stalks
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
4 tablespoons olive oil
1. Mix coriander seeds, cardamom, caraway seeds, cumin seeds and peppercorns then dry roast in a sauce pan for approx. 5 minutes until the spices become fragrant. Cool.
2. Grind spices in a grinder then transfer to blender or mortar and pestle.
3. Add fresh coriander, parsley, chilli and garlic and pound into a paste.
4. Add a little olive oil and salt then mix to combine.

Yemen (Arabic: اليَمَن al-Yaman) is the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula. The country is made up of around 20 million people and 200 islands, is bordered by Oman to the east, Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west and the Arabian Sea to the south.

For almost 3000 years, Yemen was part of the kingdoms controlling the spice trade along the Arabian peninsula. In fact some 10,000 Singaporeans and 4 million Indonesians with Arab ancestors can trace their roots back to Yemen’s spice traders.

It’s spice wealth attracted Ancient Rome which failed to annex it, yet Ethiopia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Britain had control at different times.

Unlike most Arabian groups, who are nomadic, Yemenis have lived in villages along the coast and highlands. The population is predominantly Arabic but there was a significant minority population of Jews who developed their own distinct culture. It was their migration to Israel that brought zhoug into the international spot light.

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Anna from Anna's Cool Finds.

References & Photos:



  1. This is very Arabic Chimicurri, if you will.

  2. Lovely stuff, besides most of the ingredients are readily available where I live...something like a Yemeni chutney - sure to try it out....
    Another interesting post from you Anna :)

  3. ooh la la... this is a wonderful dish .

  4. Anna, you are the best! I've never heard of this, and I can tell just from the list of ingredients that I'd love it. Must try making this soon. Just a fantastic post!

  5. This is an amazing find for me! I've been taking the veggie path recently and eating lots of falafels so I will most definitely try this sauce. Thanks for participating in WHB this week!

  6. I just made this, and it is so good! I can't wait to put it on/in things, but for now, a toasted flour tortilla will have to do. Thanks for the recipe!

  7. Oh Anna, this looks so good, and you are so descriptive that I can taste its wonderfulness. I can't wait to try this with felafel.

  8. What an interesting combination of herbs and spices! And interesting bits about Yemen.
    I can imagine that sauce in the summer on grilled meats....yum!

  9. this is a very fascinating and aromatic version of the indian coriander chutney. it looks very refreshing and flavourful.

  10. It does look like a chutney - sounds delicious. Thanks for both the recipe, and the writeup on Yemen!

  11. That looks amazing anna. Wow, so cool. Yemen. Crazy!

  12. Im Yemeni. This is not the Yemeni recipe. Missing few items and way too many of whats not in the actual recipe.

  13. anon - i'm not surprised that it's not so authentic, since i based my version on various recipes on the internet and my experience in israel.
    i'm not an expert on yemen by any means!
    but perhaps instead of saying that it's missing items and has too much of other things, you could specify how to make a true, authentic zhoug?
    that would be really helpful and i'm really interested in learning.
    what's it missing?
    what should i take out?

  14. It is good that people enjoy the recipe that you shared. However I will answer your question.

    Sure! I will give you the recipe. However, before I do that, I will give some expertise on the matter. First, In addition to my other professions I am also a Chef and exert on Yemeni cuisine (as well as others throughout the peninsula). I’ve been schooled in Yemen, KSA, and USA, and have also received cooking lessons from numerous tribes (modern and nomadic/Jewish, Arabs, and extensively from Muslims). I enjoy fusion of cuisines but when they are labeled as coming from a specific culture, it is best that the authenticity is kept intact.

    Throughout Yemen and Saudi Arabia, you will find this condiment pronounced as Zhoug (Z-howg) and sometimes SaHaoug (sa-haowg). This mixture originated throughout the Arabian Peninsula many years ago (not just in Yemen). Although both sides want to claim it as their creation, it is neither solely a Jewish creation nor solely an Arab creation. On the Contrary, the oldest reference to this recipe was blended by Nomadic Arabs who served it to an Arab King that later served it to some Hebrew and Arab Tribes. This old story’s exact location is believed to have surfaced from a tribe in Al-Baha shared in Yathrib and Mecca (the country modernly called Saudi Arabia), and spread north and down South to Sana’a Yemen. So we can denote from this that it was shared. It was a common recipe equally found throughout the peninsula region before it spread centuries later to other lands. Zhoug has many benefits. In its original form, it is very aromatic and full of flavor. When you mix too many other ingredients with the original recipe, the medicinal properties can be reversed. In other words, you can cause more damage than good to the body. When all the ingredients of the oldest and original recipe are fresh, each herb has a medical benefit to the body and they work together in your system. It is believed that Tomatoes have Cancer fighting properties. Garlic is known to flush the pores of the skin, and Jalapeño peppers have properties to rid parasites. When blended together, they strengthen each other. The tomato also serves as a buffer so that the peppers won’t ulcerate the stomach as they may do when you overly consume them solely. This is just to name a few benefits. There are far more than what I have listed. The best recipe is when you use all fresh or raw ingredients. Not bought in a jar or using dried herbs. That’s a “no no”. Zhoug is a green version of Shatta, which is almost the same yet Shatta uses mild red chilies. Zhoug is supposed to be hotter. Too many added ingredients take away from the benefits and is what I call, “Too loud” in to our taste buds. Too much communication going on at once takes away from the beauty of this recipe and is not Zhoug.

    The oldest zhoug recipe was very simple and it is as follows:

    ½ Cup of Cilantro
    1-2 medium jalapeño peppers (deseeded)
    1 pinch of salt
    2 garlic cloves
    1 medium or large tomato

    This recipe has to be evenly mixed so I will give instructions in great detail.

    1. Wash the cilantro, tomato, and peppers well. Place the Cilantro on a paper towel to dry off excess water.
    2. Cut the tomato in chunks and add to a bowl
    3. Chop the cilantro and add to the bowl
    4. Cut alongside the jalapeño pepper and take out the seeds. Chop them evenly and place into the bowl.
    5. Chop the garlic and add to bowl.
    6. Now sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss these ingredients with a fork. This insures that the ingredients will be evenly fall into the blender. Trust me; it does make a difference in taste. This tip separates the experts from the amateurs.
    7. Place the tossed ingredients to a blender and pulsate the mixture until it forms a semi smooth mixture. (Do not over blend)

    Serve as desired. This is commonly served on salads, as a dip with breads, or with several traditional main dishes. It is also added to other dishes such as Lahoug and Shafoowt. But that is an entire lesson on its own. Please learn about the benefits of each ingredient below: pepper Garlic Tomato Cilantro

    Remember, if it is not the above recipe, it should be labeled as something different. Many people mistake varied versions which add coriander, cumin, and parsley to chili sauces with being Zhoug and mistakenly pass it as such. Sad but true.

    Also when mixing too many spices and herbs, be careful and learn the side effects. Generally, it is best to educate yourself on what and when to mix herbs and spices. From ancient times until today, the tribes of Yemen and Saudi Arabia are well educated on this skill. Currently some people of the AlGhamdi and Zahrani tribes have been known to be inherited experts of this art. Some live to be very old and have been recorded to live up to or beyond 100 years of age.

    Hope it was helpful for you. Have fun cooking.

  15. wow! so interesting! thank you so much for sharing your experience. i would be really interested in hearing more about yemeni cuisine so if you want to email me some recipes i will try to cook them. my email address is mentioned in the "more about me" section at the top of the blog!

    thanks for passing on the info!

  16. Ok! I must say that once this story was told with some variations and also the locations was vice versa. Oh Well, that is what happens to old stories I guess. As for you blog.....Thanks very much for sharing.

  17. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 5 years and never discovered zhoug. I can't remember where I found the original recipe which I tinkered with recently and blogged about. I'm grateful for your recipe Anna and for the extensive information by Anonymous - so interesting.


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