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    In the frying pan, nearly ready to serve. I made this one with carrots, curry spices, chile-garlic paste, allspice and cinnamon, and a little vinegar and lemon for acidity.

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Z’khug Basic

Z'khug (hot pepper-garlic-cilantro paste) in the food processor

Grinding the cilantro with reconstituted hot pepper flakes and garlic in the food processor


Z’khug is a Yemenite condiment, something like pesto but much, much hotter. It’s made of garlic, cilantro leaves, and chile peppers, usually with some mix of cumin/caraway/etc powder and maybe a little salt and olive oil. It’s the kind of thing you use sparingly to give a kick to hummus, spaghetti with ricotta, fish, potatoes, tomato sauce, peanut sauce, sweet potatoes–anything but chocolate mousse, basically.

It’s easy to make and worth keeping in the freezer, patted into a thin layer in a sandwich-sized ziplock bag so you can break little raisin-sized pieces off as needed to flavor a dish so it’s not boring but won’t take people’s scalps off when they taste it.

Fancier versions with added spices are available on the web, but my basic (maybe too basic for authenticity, but do I care?) version is:


  • large bunch of washed and picked-over cilantro, lower inch of stems removed
  • 3-5 fat cloves or 12 or so medium-thin cloves of garlic, mashed or grated
  • ~1/4 c. red hot pepper flakes
  • 1/4-1/2 c. boiling water
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • optional spices: caraway, cumin, fresh-ground black pepper, allspice and or coriander (small, small amounts of an even blend, to taste; not entirely recommended except maybe for the caraway)

In the bowl of a food processor, pour 1/4 c. boiling water or a little more on the hot pepper flakes and let sit 15 minutes or so, until the water is soaked up and the red flakes have softened and swollen (the seeds won’t look very different from dried). Add the cilantro  and garlic and grind until chopped fine to a rough paste. When the mixture looks about like pesto, drizzle a little olive oil on it and mix it in. Pat the z’khug into a sandwich bag in a layer less than 1/4 inch thick, squeeze out as much air as possible, seal and freeze it flat.

To use, saw off small chunks to add to hot foods or let a bigger chunk thaw for serving as a condiment (with a VERY small spoon) alongside hummus and pita.

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