Nobody does spice quite like the Yemenites, and schug is the “crown prince” of spicy condiments. It’s a fiery, garlicky, herby green sauce that adds a spicy kick to all kinds of foods. Throughout the years my schug recipe has become very popular with friends and family. I have simplified the process a bit, and also added a Passover modification for those who want to spice up their matzo balls… or what have you.
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.
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. A very small portion 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 kick of flavor.
Recently I had a friend request schug for Passover, which challenged me to come up with a version that works for the holiday. Ashkenazi Jews who are avoiding kitniyot will not eat some of the spices in schug during the holiday. In the “Notes” section below I have provided some alternate ingredient suggestions.
This stuff is 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 whole jalapeño peppers
- 2 cups chopped cilantro, or one bunch
- 2 cups chopped parsley, or one bunch
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
- 6 cardamom pods, or heaping 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds, optional
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- Pinch black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or more as needed
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 and white pith, unless you REALLY love 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. If you don't have pods, substitute a heaping 1/4 tsp cardamom powder.
Add the parsley to your food processor and roughly chop, then add the cilantro and roughly chop. Make sure it's rough, you don't want an herb puree here... bits, pieces and stems are fine at this point.
Place the jalapeños, garlic, salt, cardamom seeds (or powder), 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 pesto-like consistency-- not super smooth, a little texture is good. Taste the mixture. Careful, it's hot! Add more salt to taste if needed (salt really makes the spicy flavors pop). If you want it hotter, you can blend in some additional jalapeño seeds. But seriously, it's plenty hot without the seeds. Add more olive oil for taste and texture, if desired.
Keep it in a sealed jar or tupperware in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Check by smelling to ensure freshness. I don't recommend keeping longer than a week. Schug does freeze and defrost well; I often make a big batch and freeze in smaller 1/2 cup portions, which we thaw as needed.