Mint Zhoug

During the lockdown, I found myself with all sorts of things that needed to get used up sooner than I expected. I would buy too many lemons, thinking I’d need them. Then realize I had too many and make lemon curd. The grocery shopping delivery service that I use inexplicably had jalapeño peppers on their website (and a few times, padrón peppers!) and I couldn’t not buy those, since those are very rare around here. And because I’ve been doing Instagram Live apéro hour videos, I was concerned about running out of fresh mint, so bought them by the bundles (plural), until one day I realized I had way too much.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it all. I didn’t want to dry it, because it loses so much of what makes fresh mint so special, and saw some recipes for Indian chutneys that looked interesting, and considered making salsa verde. But then I realized that I had never made Zhoug, which I’d always wanted to. And decided my overload of herbs meant it was time to give it a go.

Zhoug (or zhug) is a Yemeni sauce, traditionally made from parsley and/or cilantro. But these are untraditional times. It goes by different names in different countries and I’ve had some that were really hot and spicy, and others that were more focused on the herbs.

I painstakingly researched if you could make zhoug with fresh mint, and after hours of searching, I didn’t see anything that suggested you couldn’t make it with mint and call it zhoug. (The word means to pound or crush, similar to pesto.) I’ll probably hear about it soon, but I’m sure everyone can agree that it’s best to use up food that we have and not let anything go to waste, especially right now. So mint zhoug it is.

No one was happier than me during the lockdown to have a lot of olive oil on hand. I get my olive oil from Bosco Falconeria. Because there’s a minimum order, which is between 50 and 100 liters, I hit up friends to see who else would like some when I put in my annual norder. (Note that they can’t ship to the United States, but there are places to get their olive oil in smaller bottles in Europe and the U.K. such as here and here.)

A few responded with, “Oh, okay…I’ll take a liter.” Since I told them that it comes packed in 3 or 5 liter tins, several came back with, “Okay then…I’ll take 3 liters.” Three liters of olive oil would last me a month or two. To make the minimum order, I bulked up the order to get what I thought would be way too much for us. But who’s laughing now? I seem to be going through a liter (quart) a week. And I’m getting the midsection to prove it.

I used this zhoug on everything, from oven-roasted cauliflower, which was a match made in culinary heaven (we had it last night with roasted cauliflower and grilled chicken), to falafels, and shakshuka, to liven and spice them up. It’s not as fiery as some I’ve had, since jalapeños aren’t crazy-hot, but you could fix that using other chile peppers. Although this recipe made a lot, we quickly went through the jar. You’re welcome to cut the recipe in half if you don’t have an overload of fresh mint. But if you do, here’s a great way to use it up.

Mint Zhoug
Print Recipe
About 1 1/2 cups
Note that I haven't tried this with other herbs but if you want to do so, you'll likely use less olive oil. Fresh mint isn't as "juicy" or humid as softer herbs. Cumin and cardamom seem to be constant spices used in zhoug but I've seen recipes that call for black pepper, coriander seed, and even caraway. So feel free to vary them to what you have or your tastes. Even if using fresh mint, I start with a smaller amount, as indicated by the recipe in Step #s, then add more as needed, until you get the spoonable consistency I did, as shown in the photos in the post. If you want the sauce to be hotter, you could add the seeds from the jalapeños. If unavailable, another chili pepper would work, but you'd want to adjust the quantity of them for spiciness and heat, depending on the hotness of the peppers. Lastly, if you don't have a food processor you could make this in blender or mortar and pestle. This recipe makes quite a bit, but it can be easily cut in half.
4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 jalapeño peppers, stems and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or flaky sea salt
5-6 cups (80-100g) loosely packed fresh mint leaves
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more, if necessary
2 tablespoons water
1. Put the garlic, jalapeños, cumin, cardamom, and salt in a food processor. Pulse 3-4 times to get everything well-combined.
2. Coarsely chop the mint leaves and add about a third of them to the food processor along with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pulse a few times. Lift the lid, then scrape the sides of the food processor bowl to incorporate any mint leaves sticking to it, then add the remaining mint leaves and the water. (If you want to sauce to be extra-rich, you could replace the 2 tablespoons of water with olive oil.)
3. Pulse the food processor for a few seconds at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Continue to pulse and process, adding additional olive oil, until you reach the desired consistency. The zhoug should be spoonable, the consistency of pesto. Taste, and season with additional salt or spices.

Storage: Fresh mint tends to discolor upon sitting and the top will darken when left to sit for a while. To mitigate that, store the zhoug in a narrow jar, with as little of the surface area exposed as possible, in the refrigerator. (The top will still darken but it's fine to eat and you can just give it a stir before serving.) You can also smooth the top and pour a layer of olive oil on it, or press a piece of food-safe wrap against the surface to prevent it from browning. It'll keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

Mint Zhoug

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  • May 14, 2020 7:34pm

    Mint IS used in Yemeni Zhoug, but only from a small part of the country. My recipe for it is here.

    Thank you for all you’ve done to share your culinary knowledge – it has inspired me for many years now. :) Reply

  • Sandra, Wpg.
    May 15, 2020 3:15pm

    I hadn’t heard of Mint Zhoug before. Thank you for this recipe. I’ll have something different to try once my mint starts growing in the garden. I also love spaghetti with mint and butter sauce (Mark Bittman’s easy recipe in NYT). Who knew that would taste so good! Reply

  • Gayle
    May 15, 2020 3:24pm

    THIS is so exciting – making Zhoug mint! Brilliant! Thank you so much; I cannot wait to make this with the mint that I am growing. Reply

  • Carol
    May 15, 2020 3:56pm

    This reminds me of Georgian adzhika or adjika (multiple spellings). Actually, it seems to be found throughout the Caucasus. Some green varieties are like your descriptions of the shout. There are also red varieties with peppers and other vegetables. I love the red varieties with khachipuri, adds some zest to the melted cheese. Thanks for your work! I can relate to the effects of the lockdown on the waistline. I never realized how much normal life kept me moving! Reply

  • May 15, 2020 5:41pm

    Having now been in strict stay-at-home for 9 weeks, I definitely need a pick-me-up. I have a lot of mint growing in a pot, but not enough for this recipe. What I do have a ton of are chives. I think I’ll take one step farther from tradition and make a mint-chive zhoug, because, why not? Sounds delicious. Reply

  • Kay
    May 15, 2020 8:56pm

    On drying mint, I have done it successfully with our homegrown mint. The result is extremely fragrant and works well in cooked applications when fresh mint isn’t available. Reply

  • Daphne in Oklahoma
    May 15, 2020 9:26pm

    Mint grows like a weed here. looking forward to harvesting and trying this soon! Reply

  • Jan
    May 15, 2020 9:41pm

    I love mint and can’t wait to try this. With an excess of mint—is there any other amount?—I make mint vinegar then use it in an unusual Persian sweet-and-sour mint syrup Sekanjabin. It’s a great drink: stir 3 or 4 Tbsp. in a glass of charged water. For dessert, Persians dip romaine lettuce leaves in it. Even odder is the combo of diced cucumbers, the syrup, and corn flakes. I tried this and liked it, but it didn’t go into my recipe rotation! The syrup; definitely! Reply

  • Abbie
    May 16, 2020 2:03am

    I made a half recipe of this today- it took 6 minutes and was delicious on leftover pizza for lunch. Can’t wait for another round tomorrow! Thanks for an awesome recipe! Reply

  • May 16, 2020 5:17am

    I have mint growing in my garden and will make this recipe soon. Thanks , stay safe and healthy! Reply

  • Linda
    May 16, 2020 11:28pm

    Do you think I could mix mint with cilantro? Reply

  • jane
    May 17, 2020 12:26am

    I just made an Andy Baraghani of Bon Appetit recipe that he called scallion salsa – that I loved – but it was clearly a zhoug!

    That one was with parsley and coriander so I can not wait to try this one with mint and cardamom!

    Creative salsa, Indian chhonk and now zhoug, these are bringing so much delicious variety to basic staples. Thank you. Reply

  • Lucie
    May 17, 2020 10:42am

    Made this with a pinch of cloves instead of cardamom, added some lemon. Smeared some on toast, topped with sheep’s feta and a drizzle of olive oil, delish! Reply

  • Yael
    May 17, 2020 7:16pm

    To paraphrase the comment I left a couple of years ago on the Serious Eats zhug recipe – I would like to highly encourage anyone making zhug, be it from the original cilantro or from any herb that strikes your fancy, to try making a version without oil. I personally find it preferable, for two main reasons:

    1. Authenticity (for those who might care about authenticity): as a Yemenite friend of my parents’ explained on the matter, zhug is originally made not in a mortar and pestle, but on a flat stone called a mazhaga (مسحقة in Arabic). Using oil on something like that makes no sense – it’ll inhibit effective grinding, and also just run off the stone. So the original zhug is basically a paste of chiles, herbs etc., no oil added.

    2. Flavour: using oil makes the spiciness a lot more prominent (since capsaicin is – as far as I remember at least- oil based and water insoluble), leaving it lingering in your mouth. Which I guess some people like, and that’s okay! But skipping the oil gives you a fresher flavour, where the herbs can really shine. The aforementioned friend of my parents’ makes a version which is barely hot (I think he probably uses a single chile on a whole bunch of cilantro), but just incredibly delicious, because of how the different flavours balance and play off each other.

    It’s a very basic recipe, and thus is open to a lot of different interpretations, but if you’re already playing with things, that’s one change I think is really worth trying. Reply

    • May 17, 2020 9:20pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for chiming in Yael. I’ve mostly seen recipes that use olive oil (or one by Claudia Rodin that uses canola oil) or a combination of water and olive oil. But I did some deeper looking and saw one recipe that used no oil, made in a food processor that looked like what you described (here.) Although she used a lot of chile peppers. (I was also searching in English and in French, so perhaps there are recipes out there online in Arabic to check out.) When the lockdown is over and I can get cilantro I’ll give it a go without oil. I think with mint, it’s not very moist so some liquid is probably necessary but I’ll try it with cilantro Thanks for the suggestion! Reply

      • Yael
        May 18, 2020 10:20pm

        I think a lot of recipes use oil because it makes it easier to create a homogenous paste in the food processor (the friend of my parents’ said he throws in the stems, along with the leaves, because the extra moisture helps), and it also probably helps preserve the zhug longer afterwards. But at least in Hebrew I’ve also seen recipes without it – I’ve not tried an Arabic search.

        Anyway, both versions can be great in their own way. I just personally like the herbiness and freshness of the no-oil version a little better. Reply

  • Laurie Heil
    May 18, 2020 3:58pm

    So funny, I was just describing zhoug to someone, when your post popped up…I LOVE zhoug, but usually make it with cilantro – I look forward to making some of this today! Reply

  • May 22, 2020 9:15am

    Spoilage for herbs like mint and cilantro is a big problem here in Los Angeles, especially in the summer. Even though I love z’khug, I don’t want to get through a whole jar a week. So when I make it I divide the batch into flat ziplock sandwich baggies, make sure the air is out and pat it flat to about 1/4″ thickness (0.5 cm) to keep in the freezer. The thin layer makes it easier to break or shave off a reasonable chunk as needed for whatever I’m cooking or eating it with. Reply

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