Zhug, and learning to be flexible.
Adapted from: the spicy green sauce from Yemen.
Have you ever had one of the defining aspects of your sense of self called into question by someone you love? This happened to me not long ago: an unforgettable moment of double betrayal in which my sister and boyfriend both posited that—despite everything I believed about myself—I, in fact, had no chill. Clearly, I’ve never been able to accept this. Being easy-going is one of the things that tempers my self-loathing. But this week, it occurred to me that they might be right.
I was asking E.—a weekly game we play with the contents of our fridges and pantries—about what I should make with two bunches of cilantro I had leftover from previous farm deliveries. She suggested I make a green sauce, which sounded like a great idea in theory, except I had no idea what to do with it. Put it on everything, she recommended. Everything? The whole concept is foreign to me.
On the same day, the New York Times put out a piece called “20 Simple Sauces That Will Transform Any Meal.” The allure of these sauces, according to the piece, is their convenience and ease. “Part of the appeal here is not having to figure out exactly what to cook: Make anything and slather it with sauce.” Even though I’ve cooked for myself and others since my late teens, I can say with absolute certainty that I have NEVER slathered something in sauce and called it a day. I simply don’t know how.
Does this suggest a lack of confidence when it improvising in the kitchen? Maybe. But it also goes against the grain of how I cook, which I’d like to think involves a certain amount of deliberation, or specificity. Or, as those who know me best might argue, inflexibility. I go after certain ingredients and spices and I choose the recipes that’ll highlight them. I refuse to make certain dishes until I can access all of their parts. And, if the desire to do any of that falls short, I default to eating a concerning amount of one thing that requires no cooking or assembly at all—usually watermelon or Doritos—and call it a night. Self-awareness is the first step.
Since coming to this realization about myself, I have decided to give flexibility a try. (The only thing that out-stubborns my stubbornness is my refusal to be pegged as one thing.) So I made a green sauce, one of the list of 20 published by the NYT. It’s a zhug—also known as harif or sahawiq—a herbaceous, general-purpose hot sauce from Yemen. The recipe called for two packed cups of cilantro and a few jalapeños, along with spices like cumin and cardamom. You can truly use it on anything:
The traditional preparation involves pounding herbs into a rough paste with a mortar and pestle, then emulsifying it with olive oil. Of course, I only did this research after I had blended mine into a kale smoothie.
Does this textural discrepancy make me twitch? Absolutely.
Will I be able to accept it and move on? Unlikely.
Like I said. Super easy-going.
Zhug - Melissa Clark, NYT Cooking
The first thing on the list of ingredients is ten (10) cloves of garlic, which is frankly excessive. I would add 3 and then adjust to taste. Other zhug recipes I checked out feature not only cilantro, but sometimes equal parts parsley, and sometimes mint too. Something to try the next time I make this, in case I ever become the type of person to just have green sauce in the fridge. For, you know, whatever.
Do you have any go-to sauces in your repertoire? Please send them my way.
Until next time,