Why It Works
- Pounding the herbs and aromatics with a mortar and pestle draws out intense flavor from them.
- Drizzling in olive oil while pounding creates an emulsion that ensures the sauce won't taste greasy or bland.
When I wrote about my recipe for phat phrik khing, I tried my absolute darnedest to convince you that a good mortar and pestle belongs in the arsenal of any home cook (and Daniel's done the same in his guide to the best mortars and pestles). This tool will actually extract more flavor from herbs and spices than a food processor or blender ever can, producing chile paste that's more aromatic, spoonful for spoonful. I'm going to try to convince you once again today with zhug (also spelled "s'chug" or "s'rug"), a Yemenite hot sauce flavored with coriander (cilantro) seeds and leaves, cardamom, cumin, parsley, and plenty of heat from chile peppers.
The sauce is actually quite similar to a South American chimichurri, North African chermoula, Spanish- or Italian-style salsa verde, or even a good pesto. In other words, it's an herb-packed sauce that's pounded or roughly puréed and emulsified with plenty of olive oil.
I love it when you find recipes that so closely resemble each other from all corners of the globe. It means that you can instantly travel from one region to the next, with only minimal changes in ingredients and process.
As with all other pound-fresh-ingredients-until-they-drop recipes, I found that, as promising as a high-powered mechanized solution looks, the real key to the best-tasting zhug is taking the food processor out of the equation and pounding your ingredients with a mortar and pestle.
I start with kosher salt (which mainly acts as an abrasive to improve grinding) and spices: cumin and coriander seeds, along with some black pepper and the interior seeds of a couple of cardamom pods. Grinding these is quick work with a mortar and pestle; you need to use a series of firm, circular motions. Next, I add garlic cloves and Thai bird chiles—I prefer their intense heat and fresh flavor to the more bitter, grassy flavor of the jalapeños that many recipes call for. I crush them all into a rough paste, using a pounding and twisting motion. The mortar and pestle does require a bit of elbow grease, but the results are just so much better than what you get out of the food processor.
Once the garlic and spices are broken down, I add my leaves half a handful at a time, working the cilantro and parsley into a rough, pulpy paste. Finally, I drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil, smashing and grinding the entire time so that the olive oil gets emulsified into the sauce, while also picking up flavors from the herbs, chiles, garlic, and spices.
The final sauce is fresh and bright from the herbs, while also having an intensely spicy kick to it. It's the ideal accompaniment for falafel or sabich sandwiches, but it also goes great with a variety of grilled vegetables, fish, meat, and eggs. It should last up to a week in the fridge (though I've never had a jar linger uneaten for long enough to actually find out).
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 green cardamom pods, small internal seeds only, toasted (optional)
4 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 to 6 fresh Thai bird chiles, red or green (to taste), roughly chopped; or 4 dried chiles de árbol, stemmed, seeded, and torn into fine pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 ounces fresh parsley and cilantro leaves and fine stems (about 2 loosely packed cups of mixed herbs)
1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Combine coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper, and cardamom seeds (if using) in a mortar and pestle and grind into a powder using a firm, circular motion. Add garlic, chiles, and salt and pound into a rough paste. Add cilantro and parsley one small handful at a time and continue pounding into a rough paste. (By the time you're done, there should be no pieces of chiles or herbs larger than 1/8 inch remaining.) Pounding constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil to form an emulsion. Season to taste with more salt. Zhug can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several weeks.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 14g||18%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||10%|
|Total Carbohydrate 2g||1%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 10mg||52%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|