I’ve been regularly making zhug, which you may also know as zahawiq, ever since I first had it with a Yemeni friend more than 20 years ago. In an ode to my birthplace here’s my California take on it, subbing a whole avocado for the customary olive oil and using dried garlic (California produces some of the best dried garlic) instead of fresh. It forms a creamy emulsion that doesn’t separate, and the garlic flavor stays consistent over time.
Makes a bit more than a pint
2 tsp Isphahan N1, -or- (4 cardamom pods, finely ground, 1 tsp garlic slices, ground, 1/2 limon omani, finely ground)
1 tsp coriander, ground
1/2 tsp caraway, coarsely ground
1 tsp cumin, coarsely ground
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon juice (can sub lime in a pinch)
5-6 stemmed, seeded, and chopped hot green peppers*
2 bunches parsley, cilantro, or a combo, rinsed well of any sand, patted dry, and chopped (chop the stems and lower leaves too but keep them separate)
1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped†
• I find that using a powerful blender with a blunt blade like the one I have gives a great result with very little time or effort, so try that if you have one. You can also use a mortar and pestle or a food processor. I find that since it’s avocado and not liquid olive oil you get a pretty decent result any way you slice it so it’s just more a question of effort/cleaning.
• Add all ingredients except the cilantro and avocado and process to form a paste.
• Add the roughly chopped lower leaves and stems of 1 bunch each cilantro and/or parsley and process until all large pieces have been ground.
• Add the chopped upper leaves and one chopped avocado and process until you have smooth sauce that still has some texture. Taste and adjust salt and spice to your preference.
• Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days (try to exclude air as much as you can to prevent oxidation by using a container you can fill all the way or a plastic bag you squeeze the air out of).
* Some thoughts regarding peppers:
- I prefer to exclude the cores and seeds as they don’t have so much flavor, just heat. I’ll add serrano chilies to my usual jalapeño instead to bring the heat level up without compromises.
- I always taste each pepper since the do vary in heat (learned this tearful lesson at breakfast time many years ago when I bit into a rogue jalapeño). I slice off the top and touch my tongue to it to get an idea, then set aside the top along with the seeds and cores.
- A great tool to neatly extract the seeds and core is a bone marrow spoon, which is also great for eating bone marrow (naturally) and digging holes to plant seeds, so isn’t a one trick pony.
- The cores, seeds, and tops are nice to use to infuse vinegar or vodka so you can add heat (and a bit of pepper flavor) to other dishes or cocktails.
†Avocado tips: buy them green and hard, make sure the skins aren’t spotty, and that the stem is firmly attached. Ripen them on the counter until the stem end yields gently to the touch, generally 4-7 days (if you need them to ripen faster put them together with bananas in a paper bag, the ethylene gas from the bananas will speed the process). When they are ripe you can move them to the top shelf in the refrigerator to maintain peak freshness and texture for a few more days.
Fun to try
• You can always play with the spices. I find the garlic, cardamom, and cumin to be key to the flavor of this sauce, but please feel free to experiment! I’m playing with riffs on traditional red-pepper and cheese-based zahawiq and will report back.
• It was excellent on a tostada the next day (pictured): a regular corn tortilla fried crisp in oil, topped with refried black beans, the previous day’s extra enchilada filling (shredded chicken and zucchini), pico, avocado zhug, shredded cheese, and sour cream
• I fried some leftover basmati rice in butter (pictured), with some onions, avo zhug, a couple eggs, and some chives from the garden. My kiddo wolfed it down. You can also use mayonnaise to fry rice and it gives a wonderful result (recipe to come)
• It’s generally awesome with any egg dish, try shakshuka!
• Try stirring in some labneh or crème fraîche for an even creamier sauce that tones down the heat a bit. Great for young kids.
Past May Recipes
2019 – Spring Sauces
2018 – Lacy Quesadilla
2017 – Beets & Sweets Fritatta
Food images and recipe © Christian Leue
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