What is Zhoug? It’s a vibrant, delicious, super versatile sauce made from fresh herbs, garlic, chiles and oil. It takes the ho-hum out of everyday meals!
I thought I should give you a fair warning; lots of people find that, once they taste this fresh, vibrant condiment/sauce called Zhoug (pronounced ZOOg), it’s hard to live without it! Well, I’m sure they can live without it but, it’s one of those things you don’t WANT to be without! It’s so delicious and amazingly versatile.
What is Zhoug?
I had the delicious pleasure of first “meeting” Zhoug a few years ago. I’d never heard of it until the day I ran into it at Trader Joe’s and spotted the interesting sauce in the refrigerator case. The name as well as the bright, vibrant green color intrigued me so I threw a container of it into my shopping cart. That was the beginning of a love affair!
Trader Joe’s says that, “Zhoug likely originated in Yemen, and is now popular throughout the Middle East”. They describe it as “a cilantro-based sauce/condiment that’s been likened to Middle Eastern pesto” and a “spicy, fragrant, fabulously flavorful culinary creation”.
Delicious, beautiful pizzaz!
I agree and think that Zhoug is a great way to bring some pizazz to everyday meals and it pairs well with so many things. For example, several weeks ago when I was working on my recipe for Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken with Toum (Shish Taouk), I thought that, in addition to the garlic sauce (Toum), it would be nice to have something fresh and vibrant. I thought of Zhoug, realized I had everything I needed to make it and the rest is history:
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve tweaked the basic recipe just a bit to make things flavorful but simple at the same time. I experimented with the ration of fresh parsley and cilantro, the two herbs. I discovered that too much parsley can give the Zhoug a sharp, somewhat unpleasant flavor. So my version is very cilantro forward with just a bit of parsley for freshness and bright color.
Many Zhoug recipes call for grinding whole coriander and cumin for authentic flavor. Always looking for an easier (but still delicious) way to do things, I use ground cumin and coriander but “bloom” them in olive oil for a short time to bring out the flavor.
All the Zhoug recipes I checked out, call for raw garlic but I decided to saute the garlic along with the cumin and coriander to mellow the flavor a bit. Lastly, keeping the olive oil back until the end keeps it from taking on a bitter flavor (a phenomenon that can happen when olive oil is vigorously blended in a food processor or blender).
What to do with Zhoug
I’m so happy you asked! Besides just sneaking in the refrigerator and eating it with a spoon, here are some delicious things to do with Zhoug:
- Drizzle it over roasted veggies.
- Use it as a spread on a sandwich or wrap. We love making a wrap with low-carb tortillas spread with Zhoug and layered with thinly sliced grilled chicken and thin slices of cucumber and tomato… delish!
- Combine a few spoonfuls with some softened butter and serve with grilled corn on the cob.
- Spoon Zhoug over goat cheese and serve with crackers or crostini.
- Combine Greek yogurt with a couple of spoonfuls of Zhoug. Serve with raw veggies or with Mediterranean or Indian entrees.
- Mix equal parts of Zhoug and olive oil and drizzle over baked or grilled fish.
- Serve on top of plain hummus drizzle with a bit more olive oil and serve with pita chips.
- Give scrambled or sunnyside up eggs a little zip with a small bowl of Zhoug on the side.
- Use it on steak instead of chimichurri sauce.
- Make a Zhoug aioli by combining it with equal parts of mayo.
- Serve it as a dipping sauce for bread or chips.
- Delicious on veggie burgers!
- Swirl it into soups.
- Toss it with pasta for a fabulous side.
- We like to spread it on crostini and top with tomatoes, a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.
- It also makes a wonderful dipping sauce for steamed shrimp.
- Stir a couple of spoonfuls of Zhoug into couscous to give it a whole new flavor profile (not to mention a beautiful presentation!).
- We have a wonderful Fresh Herb, Ham and Goat Cheese Fritatta recipe coming up that we love to serve with a spoonful of Zhoug.
I had to laugh, just as I was finishing writing this post, I picked up the June/July 2021 issue of Fine Cooking. Guess what’s featured on the cover? A delicious-looking Grilled Steak with Zhoug!
So make a batch of this flavorful Zhoug asap! You’ll be right in line with the culinary big wigs!
Cafe Tips for making this Zhoug (aka Zhug, Shug or Skhug)
- This recipe calls for fresh cilantro and parsley. The entire cilantro plant, stems and leaves, have great flavor (unless, of course, you have an aversion to it). including the stems. The roots of the plant actually have the strongest cilantro flavor and are included as an ingredient in certain international cuisines. Parsley stems, on the other hand, taste bitter so it’s best to just use the leaves. I just take a sharp knife and run it from the bottom of a parsley sprig upwards, removing the leaves and discarding the stems.
- Use either curly or flat-leaf parsley for this recipe. I like to use the curly variety as I like the bright green color it has.
- If you have an aversion to cilantro, you probably want to go with a different recipe. This Sweet Basil Dressing is delicious and can be used in many of the same ways.
- As mentioned above, it’s important to add the olive oil mixture at the end, after the herbs are processed and chopped fine then just pulse a few times. Olive oil can take on a bitter taste if blended or processed too long.
- This recipe calls for a spice called cardamom. Although cardamom is a spice made from the seed pods of the cardamom plant which is a relative of both and turmeric, it has a unique flavor, all of its own. Cardamom has warm spice overtones while also being citrusy, minty and herbal. I say it’s optional in the recipe as it’s not a common, everyday herb but it does give a very delicious and authentic layer of flavor to this Zhoug. You’ll find cardamom in the spice section at any larger grocery store.
Thought for the day:
In their hearts, humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
What we’re listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 medium cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon cardamon optional
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 3 cups packed cilantro 1½ large or 3 medium-size bunches (stems and leaves)
- ½ cup curly or flat-leaf parsley just the leaves
- 2 medium jalapeños seeds and inner veins removed (reserve the seeds)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt more to taste
Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, coriander, pcumin, cardamom and crushed red pepper. The oil should sizzle slightly but not splatter out of the pan. Cook for 1 minute or until nice and fragrant, stirring frequently then remove from heat and allow to cool.
In the container of a food processor or blender, combine the cilantro, parsley, jalapeños, lemon juice, red wine vinegar and salt. Process until mixture is fairly smooth but still has a bit of texture.
Add the olive oil mixture and pulse 3-4 times, just until incorporated. Do not over mix at this point.
Taste and add more salt if needed, more jalapeño or some of the (jalapeño seeds) if you’d like the Zhoug to be spicier.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips.