Inspired by the popular Middle Eastern condiment zhoug, this whole-food version packs major flavor and nutrition! Warm with cardamom and cumin and made as spicy as you like, this oil-free take on zhoug sauce is just as versatile as the authentic version. Spread it on toast, toss it with pasta, and use it as a dip for everything from veggies to falafel.
This recipe was originally published in February 2020, and has been updated with new photos and content.
Why You'll Love It
Though this isn't an authentic zhoug recipe (pronunciation varies; we say ZOO-g), it absolutely captures the spirit and flavor of the traditional cilantro sauce while using easy-to-find ingredients.
The end result is a spicy, irresistible, over-the-top sauce bursting with freshness! And zhoug can be used in so many different ways.
Big thanks to Trader Joe's for introducing me to zhoug. Until they came out with it, I'd never heard of zhoug, and now my husband and I can't stop slathering it on everything!
The problem with Trader Joe's zhoug sauce is that the second ingredient is canola oil. Considering that Mark can devour an entire container all by himself over the course of a couple of days, I knew I wanted to make a more wholesome version.
Even better, it takes just a few minutes to make a batch of zhoug in the food processor. I hope you love it as much as we do!
- cilantro - you'll need about 2 cups of fresh cilantro leaves and stems, or two standard-size bunches.
- raw walnuts or pumpkin seeds - as mentioned, instead of using oil as found in authentic zhoug sauce recipes, we're using whole nuts or seeds for richness and body.
- lemon juice - use fresh for the best flavor; lime juice is also delicious
- spices - cardamom, cumin, and red pepper flakes
How To Make Zhoug Sauce
You'll need a food processor for this recipe and about 10 minutes. I use this 14-cup Cuisinart food processor.
Literally the only work involved in making zhoug sauce is separating the leaves and thin stems from two bunches of cilantro, peeling a few cloves of garlic, and slicing 2 or 3 jalapeno peppers. The food processor handles everything else!
- Process nuts, jalapenos and garlic until chunky but mostly broken down.
- Add remaining ingredients and process until fully incorporated. Thin it with water or more lemon juice and adjust seasonings to taste.
Ways to Use Zhoug
Similar to other sauces and pestos, you can easily adjust the consistency of zhoug sauce. Use it as a dip, sauce, or spread with:
- steamed, roasted and raw vegetables
- grain bowls
- vegan tacos - a match made in heaven!
- avocado toast
- sandwiches and wraps
- tossed with pasta - like you would with pesto
- mixed with vegan yogurt for a cool and creamy cilantro sauce
- nut-free - substitute raw pumpkin seeds for the walnuts. You can also use a blend of different seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower, and hemp for added nutrition.
Not only is zhoug sauce irresistible and nutritious, it's easily adjusted to suit your palate.
- For less spicy zhoug sauce, remove ALL of the seeds from the jalapeños, and omit the red pepper flakes.
- For extra spicy zhoug, include some, most, or ALL of the jalapeño seeds and bump up the red pepper flakes!
- Not sure how spicy you want it? Start by removing and reserving all of the seeds from your peppers. You can always add them later during blending if your zhoug needs more kick.
- And if you do include oil in your diet, feel free to replace the water with extra virgin olive oil, and add an extra drizzle on top before serving. This makes it extra luscious and rich!
How to Store
Homemade zhoug sauce keeps in the refrigerator for up to one week, and it freezes beautifully.
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I hope you enjoy this oil-free take on spicy zhoug sauce! If you try it be sure to comment below and let us know your favorite foods to pair with zhoug.
Zhoug Sauce (Oil-Free Version)
- 2 bunches cilantro, use the leaves and small stems (2 cups, packed); discard only the thick end of stems
- 2 to 3 fresh jalapeños
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1 ¼ cups raw walnut halves (sub pumpkin seeds for nut-free) - Can use less or more for desired richness and texture.
- ½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
- 3 to 5 tablespoons water
- Prepare the jalapenos: this is where you decide the level of heat! Remove seeds to reduce the overall heat, or include seeds for extra spicy zhoug. You can also reserve some of the seeds then add them after blending if you decide you want it spicier. If removing seeds, do that first, then slice jalapenos.*I used 2 large jalapenos with seeds removed from one.
- Combine jalapenos, garlic, and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Process until broken down into a sticky crumb texture. Add cilantro, red pepper, cumin, cardamom, ¾ tsp salt, and juice, and process until everything is incorporated and finely chopped.
- With the food processor running, drizzle in water 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistancy is reached. Keep in mind, if you altered the amount of nuts/seeds this will affect the amount of water needed. *For a thick pesto consistency I used 1 ¼ cups walnut halves and ¼ cup water.
- Taste and adjust salt/spice as desired. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.