Zchug: Israeli Salsa

Zchug, a type of chili sauce from Yemen, migrated with Yeminite Jews to Israel. Hot with chili, pungent with garlic and fragrant with exotic cardamon, it has become the Israeli national condiment. Think ketchup to Americans and salsa to Mecxicans, kim chee to Koreans. Without these blessed sauces, national cuisines would be bare naked indeed. Why is tschug so popular? It’s hard to say, but it seems to be because its sweat-inducing fire is a good fit for the hot desert winds that blow intermittently in every country ringing the Mediterranean.

You may not have time to take a trip to Israel, but surely you can catch a taste of the land by making some tzchug. Make this right and you will start to get an idea of Israeli cuisine. Here’s how to make yourself a bit of delicious zchug. Watch out, though, it’s spicy hot!

To make about 2 cups, the ingredients include 5-8 garlic cloves, chopped; 2-3 medium hot chilis, such as jalapeno; 5 fresh or canned tomatoes, chopped; 1 small bunch of coriander [cilantro], roughly chopped; 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped; 2 T of extra-virgin olive oil; 2 t of ground cumin; ½ t t turmeric and ½ t curry powder; seeds from 3-5 cardamon pods; juice of a small lemon; a pinch of sugar and some salt to taste.

Put all these ingredients except the sugar and salt into a food processor and whirl until the mixture seems well combined. Then, add the sugar and salt to taste. Put the sauce into a serving bowl, cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Zchug can also be added to about 14 oz of tomatoes or a combination of fresh and canned tomoatoes to make a spicy Yemenite dip. Mix with about ½ cup of tchug and dip in cut-up vegetables or toasted pita wedges. This is really delicious. Zchug is also the base of hilbeh, a spicy tomato relish which is created by adding fenugreek seed paste to 1 T tzchug and 2 diced tomatoes. Create the paste by soaking 2 T fenugreek seeds in cold water for at least 2 hours or,preferably, overnight. Season the hilbeh with salt and black pepper.

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