Zhug: This spicy Yemenite hot sauce is as versatile as pesto

Roast mussels with zhug: a quick short-cut to flavour

A quick short-cut to flavour: roast mussels with zhug

Zhug, also known as zhoug, is a staple of Israeli cuisine, it’s like a Middle-Eastern spicy salsa verde. Once you start using it you’ll realise that a teaspoon of zhug enhances most dishes. Traditionally, zhug is made by grinding the ingredients together using two stones, or a pestle and mortar. I tend to use my nutribullet, it doesn’t grind the herbs and make as creamy a paste as it would if you were doing it by hand but it’s a practical alternative when you don’t have a lot of time. This Yemenite hot sauce is usually made from chillies, coriander and parsley with several optional extras. Cardamom is usually added. I made mine without it first just to see but adding a little pinch of ground cardamom makes such a huge but subtle difference. There’s something floral and exotic happening underneath all of that chili heat and that is thanks to the cardamom.

Cardamom is similar to cloves in a way, it’s so pungent that if you are too heavy handed with it your sauce could be ruined, so add a little pinch at a time.

Zhug aficionados may recoil at the thought of me throwing some jarred jalapenos in here and then adding green pepper but really I love the heat of jalapenos and the green pepper adds texture. I’m always at a loss for what to do with green peppers so this is a good way to use them up.

I use this zhug like a spicy hot pesto. It can be swirled through yogurt for a quick dip or sauce for barbecued lamb, used as a marinade for fish, dolloped into soup just before serving or mixed through rice or quinoa for a quick shortcut to flavour. Covered in an airtight container, it will keep in the fridge for at least a week. Mixed with a little more olive oil and some lemon juice makes it a zippy salad dressing.


I recently discovered how delicious roasting mussels in the oven is. The high heat ensures beautifully cooked mussels without all of the usual mollusc scented steam filling the kitchen. Mussels are the ultimate fast food, taking around 10 minutes to cook. They’re nutritious and so surprisingly cheap. I got a bag just over 1kg for €5 at the Farmers’ Market. Yet it always feels like such a treat when we buy them. Serve with crusty bread, a green salad or some skinny French fries.

Roast mussels with zhug

Serves 4

2 cloves garlic

25g parsley

25g coriander

25g sliced green jalapenos, add more or less to taste

4 cherry tomatoes, halved

½ green pepper

¼ tsp ground cardamom seeds

2 tbsp olive oil

1 kg mussels

Preheat the oven to 250°C

First make the zhug. You can either do this in a pestle and mortar or in a food processor. Practically speaking, few people have a large enough pestle and mortar for this so using a food processor or high speed blender is fine. Blitz everything for the sauce, except for the oil till finely chopped. Slowly drizzle in the oil while blending to a coarse paste. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

Wash and de-beard the mussels. Tap each one on the sink if it is open, if it doesn’t close then discard it. Dry any excess water from the shells with kitchen towel and place the mussels on a baking tray.

Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the mussel shells are open.

Discard any mussels that have not opened. Transfer the mussels to a wide serving dish. Serve right away with the crusty bread.