There are two small jars of paste in the door of my fridge, which look like pesto. One has a red top, the other is green. They do not contain pesto.
Zhoug is a traditional Yemeni recipe for a hot and spicy chilli-spiked paste. It can be used in a similar way to Harissa (both as a condiment and as a spicy addition to various dishes) though be careful - it is very fiery! It is refreshingly different from harissa because it is made with fresh coriander and cardamom. Yemenis believe that daily consumption of Zhoug keeps away illness and strengthens the heart. It is a classic accompaniment to Israeli dishes, such as falafel, and a little added to Greek yoghurt makes a delicious dip.
It is known in my house as "the special stuff", which is a nod to the mysterious product Mr Briss the Butcher kept out the back of his shop in the dark comedy series 'The League of Gentleman', and the two jars in my fridge were a gift from Carlo, a fellow foodie and demon cook. It usually comes out to accompany Turkish or Middle Eastern meals, and I always warn guests to try a tiny amount at first. Some people find its chilli intensity too much; personally, I love it.
I first tried Zhoug at Moro, the Spanish-Moorish restaurant in trendy Hoxton owned by Sam and Sam Clarke. As I recall, it was served with griddled squid, a slick of bright green sauce on the side of the plate. Its taste was as fresh as its colour. I made it myself a couple of times, and then forgot about it - until Carlo came for dinner.
Like pesto, it starts out as a blend of herbs and spices; wet ingredients are added to create a sauce which will keep in the fridge for about a month in a sealed jar. It is easy to make in a blender or food processor, though it is traditionally made with a pestle and mortar. Try it as an accompaniment to barbecued meats, fish or seafood, as a topping for stews and tagines, or in the classic Yemeni way: smeared on flat bread.
A greater intensity of spiciness is achieved if you grind the spices yourself, rather than using ready ground spice.
250g long green chillies
1/2 tsp green cardamom seeds, husks removed, finely ground
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
4 tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander
1 1/2 garlic cloves, peeled
juice of 1/4 lemon
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
Wear rubber gloves when preparing chillies. Top the chillies, split in half and scrape out the seeds and discard. Roughly chop the chillies and place in a food processor. Blend with the spices, coriander and garlic until the mixture is as smooth as possible. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the lemon juice and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.