Zhoug! Meet my latest condiment obsession, also known as zhug or skhug, and pronounced “zoog.” It’s a bright, spicy cilantro sauce that originated in Yemen. If you enjoy chili-pepper heat, cilantro, and pesto, you’re going to love zhoug.
Zhoug has gained popularity across the Middle East. You’ll find it drizzled over your falafel in Israel, the perfect spicy contrast to cooling tzatziki sauce. You might find it on your restaurant table in Los Angeles, if you’re lucky.
I will somewhat sheepishly admit that I found zhoug at Trader Joe’s, in the refrigerated section by the prepared salads. Its mossy green color made me hesitate for a second, but I love herbed sauces, so it came home with me.
Since then, I’ve been drizzling zhoug on every meal or bit of leftovers that need some spicy intrigue. I love it—to the point that I’m paranoid Trader Joe’s might discontinue making it, and then how could I get by without my zhoug? So, I figured out how to make it at home, and I had to share it with you.
What should you know about zhoug?
- Zhoug is made with just a few basic ingredients: Cilantro, garlic, chili peppers, spices and olive oil. I used jalapeños since they’re easy to find.
- Trader Joe’s zhoug includes cardamom, which offers some unexpected warmth and complexity. I think you’ll like it.
- Zhoug is easy to make in a food processor (here’s mine/that’s an affiliate link).
- Zhoug is and should be spicy. You can make it as spicy as you’d like by adding fresh jalapeño seeds (reserved from your peppers) or red pepper flakes, to taste.
- Zhoug’s flavor mellows and shifts over time. It can taste pungent, bitter or too spicy straight from the food processor. If you don’t love it right away, don’t worry. Just transfer it to a jar for storage and chill it for an hour or longer.
Uses for Zhoug
Swirled, drizzled, or dipped, zhoug is terrific with any of the following.
- Beans: Black beans, chickpeas and lentils
- Creamy, tangy dairy: Plain yogurt, crème fraîche, sour cream, goat cheese or feta cheese
- Eggs: Fried eggs, frittatas, scrambled eggs
- Roasted vegetables: Bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, red onion…
- Whole grains: Brown rice, farro, wild rice, wheat berries, etc.
- Salads: Thin it with more olive oil to use as salad dressing, or drizzle it on any slaws or vegetable salads that need a wake-up
Craving more fresh, irresistibly herbed sauces? Don’t miss my shatta recipe, which is very similar to zhoug but includes walnuts and vinegar. Either one would go great with tzatziki, which is yogurt and cucumber-based. I also have a chimichurri recipe, which is garlicky Argentinean parsley sauce, as well as avocado dip and classic pesto.
As always, please let me know how you like this recipe in the comments! I can’t wait to hear what you serve it with.
Zhoug! (Spicy Cilantro Sauce)
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: 1 ¼ cups
- Category: Condiment
- Method: Blended
- Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Homemade zhoug sauce adds a spicy cilantro kick to any meal! Zhoug is a popular Middle Eastern condiment that’s very easy to make. Recipe yields 1 ¼ cup.
- 4 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 packed cups fresh cilantro (about 2 bunches, mostly leaves but skinny stems are ok)
- 4 medium jalapeños, seeds removed but reserved
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, more to taste
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Place the garlic in your food processor and process until the garlic is broken into tiny pieces.
- Add the cilantro, jalapeño (keep the seeds in case you want to make the sauce more spicy after tasting), salt, cardamom, cumin and red pepper flakes. Process until the mixture is all mixed together and very finely chopped.
- While running the food processor, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape down the sides and blend until the sauce is mostly smooth.
- Adjust to taste—for a spicier sauce, add the jalapeño seeds or additional red pepper flakes (¼ teaspoon at a time) and blend again. Too bitter? You can add more salt or give the flavors some time to mellow. This sauce’s flavor transforms with time, so if it’s too spicy or you just don’t love it right off the bat, let it chill in the fridge and try it again in an hour.
Recipe inspired by Trader Joe’s zhoug sauce.
Storage suggestions: This sauce keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 1 week. Olive oil sometimes solidifies when chilled—if this happens, let the sauce warm to room temperature or microwave it for just a few seconds. Stir to recombine.
Change it up: Some zhoug recipes call for a mix of cilantro and parsley. Use half of each if that combination appeals more to you. You can also use other varieties of peppers; Epicurious recommends Hungarian wax peppers.