Full of fragrance and packing a good punch of chilli, zhoug is the latest Middle Eastern ingredient to have crossed the waters to the West. Hailing from Yemen, the aromatic paste is also widely used in Israeli street food. Recipes vary – as do spellings, which range from zhoug through schoug to s’chug, and anything in between – but most include green chilli, fresh coriander leaves, garlic, and a mixture of spices that includes caraway seeds, cloves, cardamom or cumin.
Like pesto, zhoug is blended with olive oil to create a multifunctional relish that can be used in sauces and dressings, brushed on to roasted vegetables or grilled meat before cooking, or eaten as it is as a condiment. Yotam Ottolenghi includes it in his recipe for authentic sabih (Iraqi pitta with aubergine and egg) to create ‘one of the most exciting street foods you could wish to come across’.
This versatile, fiery relish has seen a sudden ascent on the west coast of America due to the growing number of Middle Eastern ventures opening in Los Angeles. Alex Chang, head chef at the Freehand, a Tel Aviv-inspired hotel restaurant in Miami, re-imagines Israeli food through a Californian lens. ‘I want someone to slap me with my food,’ he says, and claims much of the kick in his cooking is from zhoug. Meanwhile, Conor Shemtov, owner of another of LA’s Israeli restaurants, Mh Zh, can’t do without it: ‘It’s just so good…It’s herby, it’s spicy, it’s smoky, it’s garlicky and salty enough that you can put it on anything.’ Yemenites even believe zhoug can ward off illness and strengthen the heart – what’s not to like?
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