Recipe for Yemenite Schug – Fiery, herby green sauce with cilantro, parsley, jalapeños, garlic, spices and salt. Adds a spicy kick to all kinds of foods.
It’s all Yemenite up in my kitchen this week. We’ve been on a spicy kick, and there is no cuisine that does spice quite like the Yemenite Jews. We used to visit a local cafe run by two lovely Yemenite sisters whenever we wanted our fix of soup or schug. Sadly it closed, which meant I had to learn some of our favorite recipes on my own. I have a huge cookbook library with lots of Middle Eastern cookbooks (several are vintage/out of print), and many of them contain recipes for schug– sometimes spelled skhug, zhug or s’hug. The preparations vary widely, but a few things remain constant– greens, garlic, spices and spicy peppers. Oh yes, my friends, this stuff will absolutely clear your sinuses. My husband is convinced that the longevity of the Yemenite people is directly tied to their regular intake of schug.
Archeaological evidence shows that Jews have lived in Yemen since at least the 3rd century CE. Because of their remote location and relative isolation, Yemenite Jewish tradition remained largely unchanged throughout the centuries. They preserved many ancient Jewish religious customs that might otherwise have been lost to the passage of time. In fact, some researchers believe that the Yemenite Hebrew dialect is more closely related to the Biblical Hebrew than any other dialect.
Schug is one of the most popular condiments in Yemenite Jewish cuisine. There are two types of schug– schug yarok (green) and schug adom (red). The green tends to be more common, so that’s the recipe I’ve shared here. If you’re interested in learning the red version, comment and let me know. Schug is meant to be used sparingly, and the process of making it is not for the faint of heart. The scent alone burns… but it burns so good! I liken this to a fiery-strong Middle Eastern pesto, and a very small bit packs a flavor wallop. Stir it into soups, stews or sauces, spread a little on a sandwich or warm pita bread, drizzle it on pasta or serve it with grilled steak for an herby, piquant kick of flavor. It’s delicious in a “holy cow it burns” kind of way. Pepperheads, brace yourselves… prepare to meet your new favorite condiment.
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- 10 jalapeño peppers
- 2 cups roughly chopped cilantro
- 2 cups roughly chopped parsley
- 8 medium to large garlic cloves
- 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- Pinch of black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
You will also need
- Kitchen gloves, food processor
- Carefully stem and seed the jalapeño peppers. Wear gloves for this if possible; the peppers will leave a layer of capsaicin on your skin for 24-48 hours that can really make you miserable (your skin will feel burny and if you touch your eyes, they will burn badly). Best to wear gloves and avoid this misery! Discard the seeds, unless you are super duper good with spicy flavors... then, reserve a few. I doubt you'll need them though.
- Remove the seeds from the cardamon pods and discard the green pods.
- Place the jalapeños, chopped cilantro, parsley, garlic, salt, cardamom seeds, caraway seeds, cumin, pepper and olive oil into the food processor. Pulse the mixture, scraping the sides periodically, until the whole thing begins to resemble a puree (a pesto-like consistency-- not super smooth, a little texture is good).
- Taste the mixture-- careful, it's pretty hot! Add more salt to taste if needed (salt really makes the spicy flavors pop). If you are crazy enough to want it hotter, you can blend in some additional jalapeño seeds. But really, I doubt it. Keep it in a sealed jar or tupperware in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Check by smelling to ensure freshness, and I don't recommend keeping longer than a week.