Zhoug, shakshuka, labna, all words my computer would rather I changed, but which offer a delicious look into another world of vibrant and exciting foods and flavours.
Today it is all about Zhoug.
This spicy middle eastern condiment,originally from Yemen and now a favourite in Israel, had somehow missed my food radar. Happily Lily, an inspiring young work colleague – knowing my love of middle eastern foods – bought me a small jar of both a red and a green zhoug that her father had made. I was immediately hooked and needing to be able to make this myself, I turned to my ridiculously large collection of recipe books – (it is always good to have an excuse to justify the purchase of more though!) – and found this sauce in a number of my middle eastern recipe books. After some further reading and research, (reality says – lying around, thumbing through recipe books and surfing the food files of the internet), I have been happily giving these recipes a try!
I am sure the real deal is different in its nuances, but I am so happy with the results that I think you should give it a try too. It will warm up just about anything you wish to eat and will be something you are happy to find in your refrigerator – my friend Lily said you can even freeze it! Most importantly, this isn’t all about the chilli, it is a whole palate of flavours giving this sauce amazing depth. A word of caution though, in that it is not always possible to judge the heat of chillies, so the exact heat may vary.
Shakshuka although not a name I grew up with, somehow was in a different guise, part of my early food memories. When there was a glut of tomatoes my mother would often cook them in a pot with butter and salt and pepper and finish them by poaching an egg in the mix and serving it on toast. I have always loved this and have often over the years used the idea as a meal for one without giving it a label. Now it is on many fashionable menus and is easily made at home and changed up with whatever your fridge and pantry offer to make it more, or less, substantial. Tomatoes as the base seem like a must, but you can easily make a green version with spinach or kale or add beans or lentils. It is an easy way to feed a crowd and you can make the base sauce in advance and simply warm it and add the eggs to cook the next day.
The (optional) labna I have served with this is simply a strained yogurt, a very simple way of thickening up yogurt. Add your desired flavours, in this case a pinch of salt, lemon zest and a whiff of garlic and set aside in a piece of muslin in a sieve to drain. You can do this briefly for a thickened yoghurt or leave it for a day or two and you will have a yoghurt solid enough to roll into balls, coat in finely chopped herbs and keep in olive oil. This is an extra and not the rule.
ZHOUG – the star of the show!
Makes approximately half a cup of Zhoug
- 1/4 tsp ground or whole cardamom seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground or whole cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground or whole caraway seeds
- 1 clove garlic1/4 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 – 4 hot green chilllies
- 2 cups fresh coriander ( you can sub in a little parsley if necessary)
- 1 clove of garlic
If you are using whole spices heat them gently to refresh and grind in a spice grinder, then add to the rest of your ingredients.
If using pre ground spices, place all your ingredients in the blender or food processor and blend until you have a fine sauce.
This sauce will keep for approximately 3 weeks in your refrigerator, although if you are as excited by it as I am it wont stand a chance! Use it!
- As a condiment with anything needing a little bit of zip.
- Spread it on toast with tomato and avocado.
- In your filled rolls or sandwiches, or wraps.
- Stirred through yoghurt, sour cream or aioli, as a condiment to everything!
- With your shakshuka, chicken, fish or beef.
- Add some lemon or vinegar and olive oil and turn into a vinaigrette or marinade,
- Over a piece of grilled haloumi cheese.
- Stirred through couscous, grains or quinoa for a salad base.
I Love it!
SHAKSHUKA WITH ZHOUG AND LABNA
For this simple breakfast Shakshuka, I have sauted tomatoes, a green pepper, garlic and spinach then seasoned all with salt and pepper and cooked briefly until the tomatoes have softened but not cooked to a pulp. Next using a spoon I created indents in the mix and gently cracked an egg into each.
At this point you can cover the pan cook very gently on the stove top or place the pan into a pre-heated oven for five to ten minutes and cook to your desired doneness. I prefer them soft so that the yolk can run through everything but that is for your personal choice. Once cooked I simply spooned a little of the labna and zhoug over and served on warm plates with grilled toast to soak up the juices. Happy days!
Some of the girls and their protector, many chickens but only one egg – no surprises! Bring on spring and hopefully more egg layers.