In New Mexico, Chile is king. No questions. No debate. Red, or green? Christmas? (Christmas is both red and green.)

(If you want just the recipe, see it here.)

Zhug, after the cilantro and jalapenos and citrus and salt have been blended together. Ready for some fiery consumption.

Cilantro certainly plays a second fiddle, in salsa, as do tomatoes, but still: chile, cilantro, these are the building blocks of many New Mexican meals. So, what does that have to do with zhug? Well, combine those two things into one dish. Blew your mind, didn’t it?

Chile and cilantro are not the sole property of New Mexican cuisine and lots of other cultures do complimentary things with them that I think we should all copy, or at least, pay attention to.

That New Mexico can learn a lot from other parts of the world, including from the middle-east, where zhug originated.

What is zhug, anyway?

It can either be described as a cilantro-based hot sauce (and, depending on how you make it, I mean Hot) or as chile and cilantro pesto. Take your pick. I prefer the former, partially because I make mine scalding.

It’s a very simple sauce. Put cilantro, lemon juice, lime juice and, important here, peppers, into a blender. Blend. Blend, blend, blend.

That’s it. Maybe add some salt, to taste. And you’re done. It’s a pesto-like hot sauce or a hot pesto. Either way, zhug goes well with pita bread and tabbouleh, with some hummus. Maybe you’re going to make zucchini fritters. Add some on the side, along with tzatziki.

I should add, this sauce is very dear to my heart. Being such a fan of cilantro, even naming my blog after a proclivity for it, I gotta say. We all should love zhug.

 

Zhug

Ingredients
• Between 10-20 hot peppers, rinsed and chopped (de-seed if heat is an issue)
• 1-3 bunches of cilantro, washed and chopped
• 3-6 garlic cloves, chopped
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or seeds from 6 cardamom pods, crushed
• ¼ teaspoon ground coriander (cilantro seeds)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 lime juice, more to taste
• ¼ to ½ cup lemon juice, more or less to taste
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Salt to taste
• Optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Directions

1. Chop the cilantro, peppers and garlic.
2. Put all the ingredients, sans salt, in a food processor or blender.
3. Blend until it reaches desired consistency.
4. Add a small amount of salt, to taste.

 

If you want the full gallery of full-quality photos, they are licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-only license. See them here.

Jalapenos in a blender, before being blended, to make Zhug. Add liquid (lemon/lime juice) to aid in the blending process.

Cilantro, being being chopped up and put in a blender to make Zhug.

Since I’ve been unfortunately bereft of cash, I’ve moved much of my diet over to the produce that’s on sale for the week and brown rice. Brown jasmine rice, to be exact. The other part of my diet is using up whatever I have in the refrigerator. Recently it has been small dill pickles.

Eating so much rice quickly (soon I will move on the quinoa and the bulgur wheat I have stored) means I have to mix up what I’m doing with the rice. Early in the month, I made a conglomeration of black beans (I had cooked in the slower cooker,) chorizo and brown rice with ample amounts of onions, (home-made) salsa and Taptio (not home made.)

Curry rice with a wee bit of cilantro on top.

Curry rice with a wee bit of cilantro on top.

I then moved on to the stir-fry route with a failed General Tso’s chicken, made with broccoli. The sauce (made with apricot preserves) did not come out at all. (The point of the dish, to me, is the sauce, not the meat.) I considered it a failure. That left me with extra rice and no eggs. I didn’t want to just fry the rice — no eggs. Instead, I dug through the quickly-emptying refrigerator for my big container of yellow curry paste. Two pounds, to be exact, of spicy goodness. I poured some oil into the cast-iron skillet, put the curry in, let it disintegrate some and then threw in the rice.

Curry paste

Curry paste!

Had I other vegetables, or had I remembered the just-bought sack of onions sitting with the potatoes, I would have thrown them in. Good contenders range from potatoes to eggplant to broccoli and sprouts, peppers and tomatoes and squash. I then made a hole in the center of the rice, cracked for eggs, cooked and mixed them into the rice. I cut up cilantro I had bought for the purpose and threw it in, leaving a little extra to be used as a un-cooked garnish.

It serves its purpose. Now only, if I had vegetables left.

If you’re looking for a little extra somethin’-somethin’, then consider making some dill-heavy tzatziki to go with the curried rice.