If you’re looking for something tasty and a little bit different to serve your guests, look no further than this amazing Yemeni zhoug sauce! This punchy herb sauce is spiked with eastern spices, lemon juice and green chilli for that spicy kick. It is naturally vegan and gluten-free and is super quick and easy to make – literally 5 minutes from start to finish! It’s also utterly delicious and everyone will be completely hooked after one taste!
If you haven’t tried zhoug before, you are in for a real treat! I discovered this spicy green sauce a few years ago and decided to make some as a dip for a dinner party. The next day, literally every guest wrote to me asking for the recipe! It has been a regular feature in our entertaining ever since!
When I go back to the UK for the long summers, I often buy the little Waitrose jars of zhoug to jazz up my meals while I’m there. It tastes delicious but when I brought one back home with me and tasted it against the homemade version, I was shocked at how different they were! I guess you just can’t get that fresh zingy fresh flavour from something with preservatives and stabilizers in it!
Why You Will Love This Recipe
This easy recipe is sure to become a favourite in your household! The combination of fresh herbs and warm spices give this versatile condiment such complex flavours that never fail to delight!
- Quick and easy – it takes about 5 minutes to make this sauce and will happily keep in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months!
- Tasty and interesting – if you are bored of all the usual dips, this is something unique and surprising and totally delicious!
- Vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free – this is very allergen friendly so perfect for when you have multiple guests with different allergies!
- Healthy – zhoug tastes so good, it’s easy to forget that this is a mixture of really healthy ingredients full of essential vitamins and minerals!
What is Zhoug?
Zhoug (also known as zhug or schug) is a delicious spicy herb sauce from Yemen. With a herb base, it is like a Yemeni version of the South American chimichurri or Italian salsa verde but with a bit more of a spicy kick!
It is so delicious that its popularity has now spread throughout the Gulf region and is now a popular Middle Eastern condiment in the UK and US as well (thanks to the Waitrose and Trader Joe’s version that have inspired an almost cult following of this spicy cilantro sauce!).
The main ingredients are fresh coriander (cilantro) and green chilli but the key to its unique flavour is the cardamom. This is what gives the sauce such an interesting flavour profile and will leave your guests begging for the recipe!
In Yemen, there are two different types of zhoug – red zhoug (containing tomato) and green zhoug (just herbs, no tomato). I originally tried the green zhoug but having tried the red zhoug later on, I found the tomato really balanced the flavours and made it slightly less spiky and pungent. It’s a matter of personal taste so I have made the tomato optional in this recipe – both versions are delicious!
How to pronounce “zhoug”?
Well, this is an interesting one. I used to pronounce it as “z-oo-g” and this is what many American websites will say. However, a Yemeni colleague of my friend corrected her and said it is actually pronounced “za-ha-wiq”. On searching the internet and watching the youtube videos she directed me to, it seems it is pronounced both ways. But if you are talking to someone from Yemen, they may not understand you if you only pronounce it one way, so best to know both I think!
Zhoug is basically a mixture of the classic ingredients that feature prominently in Middle Eastern cuisine.
- Herbs – fresh coriander (cilantro), flat-leaf parsley and mint. The coriander and parsley are the dominant flavours here and make up the main substance of the sauce. Fresh mint leaves are optional but traditional.
- Spices – cardamom, carraway seeds and black peppercorns – these are the spices that give zhoug such an interesting flavour. The carraway seeds are not essential if you don’t have them, as the cardamom is really the main spice for zhoug. You can either use whole cardamom pods and open them up to retrieve the seeds inside, or you can use cardamom powder. Note that some other zhoug recipes include cumin seeds or ground cumin. I prefer it without and the more authentic recipes I have looked at, don’t seem to include cumin so I haven’t included it in my zhoug recipe either.
- Garlic – fresh garlic adds depth of flavour. If you prefer, you could use a roasted garlic paste instead of the raw garlic which would be slightly less strongly flavoured.
- Green chilli – the flavour of the green chilli is integral to this sauce. I use the long green chillies you find at the supermarket but you could use jalapeno or habanero chillies if you prefer (although this would be less authentic but would still taste good!). Zhoug is meant to be spicy but you can adjust the heat as you like depending on the type and number of green chillies you use.
- Tomato – this is optional. Red zhoug contains a tomato and has a more rounded flavour than green zhoug which does not contain a tomato and has a more pungent zingyness!
- Lemon juice – use freshly squeezed lemon juice rather than the bottled kind as this has a fresher flavour and you have the bonus of the vitamin C which helps you to absorb all that lovely iron in the parsley!
- Extra virgin olive oil – since we are not cooking this dip, it is best to use the highest quality extra virgin olive oil you can afford here. Then you will have the bonus of all the polyphenols in the oil and a richer flavour.
- Dried chilli flakes (crushed chilli / red pepper flakes) – you could leave these out if you prefer it to be less spicy but the dried chilli flakes add a different flavour profile to the fresh green chilli so will add depth of flavour to your zhoug.
- Maple syrup – just a touch of sweetness is needed to balance the flavours in this fiery sauce. You could leave it out if you really want to or use any other sweetener you prefer.
Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post for full list of ingredients and their quantities.
How To Make This Recipe
In Yemen, a traditional zhoug would be made by pounding the spices and other ingredients together in a pestle and mortar and then mixing in the oil. This is quite labour intensive though so my zhoug recipe uses the blender (or food processor) to speed things up considerably!
Step One - blend spices
First place the spices (carraway seeds, ground cardamom (or the seeds inside the cardamom pods if using whole pods), and salt and black peppercorns) into a blender (or food processor) and grind on full power for about 10 seconds.
They should look a bit like a coarse powder.
Step Two - Add the rest of the ingredients
Step Four - Blend
Blend together using the tamper to push the herbs down onto the blades. You will need to set the blender to a lower speed at first and then slowly go to a medium speed. Do not go above medium speed as you don’t want it to be a smooth puree, but more of a coarser pesto consistency with bits of herbs and spices still visible.
Then, just pour into a dish and serve!
This is a summary only. Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this page for full instructions.
Tips for Success
- For the herbs, you can use the softer stems that are up near the leaves as well as well as the leaves, but remove any of the thicker hard stems from the coriander and parsley. This makes it much quicker to chop rather than picking off each leaf individually!
- Avoid over-blending. There are two reasons for this. Blending for too long will:
- 1. bruise the herbs and turn them dull and brown; and
- 2. turn the mixture into a smooth paste which is not the consistency we’re going for here.
- Ideally, you want to blend the mixture as briefly as possible to retain some texture showing little pieces of chopped herbs, and to retain the vibrant green colour of the herbs.
- To de-seed the chillies, just cut them in half lengthways and then use a knife or teaspoon to pull away the seeds and white pith along the inside. This makes the chillies less spicy but retains their flavour. Alternatively, if you like really fiery hot zhoug, you can leave the seeds in!
- It is best to make this zhoug a few hours ahead of when you need it as the flavours blend and mellow over time. It can be a bit punchy initially when you make it!
Zhoug is extremely versatile and can be used as a sauce or as a dip. Here are some ideas for you:
- Serve drizzled over some roasted vegetables, grilled tempeh or air fried tofu cubes, or add to a buddha bowl or grain salad or felafels.
- Serve as a dip with vegetable crudites and pita bread (or stir some zhoug into vegan yoghurt for a milder, creamier dip or into hummus to spice it up).
- Add dollops of zhoug to stews or soups to zing them up a bit!
- Spread onto a wrap or sandwich instead of mayonnaise. Perfect with some grilled tempeh and salad leaves!
- Add to scrambled tofu for a tasty, spicier version!
Store this spicy condiment in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. Alternatively, you can freeze this zhoug in an airtight container for up to 3 months. When you want to use it, defrost overnight in the fridge.
Always leave zhoug out of the fridge for a little while before serving so that the olive oil warms and softens. Stir well before serving.
If you find it too spicy, leave it to mellow for a day in the fridge. The flavours will blend a bit more and it may seem less spicy then. If it is still too spicy, you could add some vegan yoghurt which will pull down the heat and soften the flavours. It is always easier to add more chilli than to take it away so, when you make zhoug, start with less chilli and then add more if you think it needs it.
📖 Recipe 📖
Amazing Zhoug Sauce!
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom powder, (or the inner seeds from inside the cardamom pods*)
- ½ teaspoon carraway seeds
- ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 cup fresh coriander, cilantro, leaves and soft stalks only
- 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves and soft stalks only
- 4 mint leaves
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 green chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 tomato, cut into quarters (optional)
- 45 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 35 ml fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon maple syrup
- First, put the ground cardamom, carraway seeds and black peppercorns in the blender and grind on high speed for about 10 seconds until coarsely grated.1 teaspoon ground cardamom powder, ½ teaspoon carraway seeds, ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
- Next, add the rest of the ingredients and blend, slowly at first, then increasing the power to medium, whilst pushing the ingredients down onto the blades with a tamper.1 cup fresh coriander, 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, 4 mint leaves, 4 garlic cloves, 4 green chillies, 1 tomato, 45 ml extra virgin olive oil, 35 ml fresh lemon juice, ½ teaspoon chilli flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon maple syrup
- Once it is a coarsely chopped consistency, stop the blender and pour the mixture into a dish to serve.
- Alternatively, you could use double the amount of whole seeds - just remove the seeds from inside the cardamom pods to measure.
- The tomato is optional. It will mellow the flavour and round it out a bit more, whereas without the tomato, it is more zingy!
- Do not over-blend the mixture. Once you have added the herbs and other ingredients, blend slowly for a few seconds, then move up to a medium speed and use the tamper to press down the ingredients to quickly chop and mix them really well. Aim for a coarse pesto type of consistency with some small chopped leaves showing, not a smooth paste.
- If your blender does not have a tamper then you will need to stop and start the blender a few times to stir the ingredients on top into the mixture underneath.
- If you do not own a blender, you could make this with a pestle and mortar but it will take some time and patience!
- Serve as a spicy sauce or as a dip with flatbreads or crudites and crackers or add spoonfuls onto soups or stews. You could also spread it in sandwiches or wraps.
- Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week. Can also be frozen for up to 3 months and defrosted overnight in the fridge. Bring up to room temperature and stir well before using.
- Best made a couple of hours in advance of serving, to allow the flavours to blend and mellow.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a ⭐ star rating ⭐ on the recipe card!
If you like this zhoug sauce recipe, you may like these other delicious vegan and gluten-free dip recipes too:
These are my favorite dishes to serve with this zhoug sauce recipe: