Inspired by the popular Middle Eastern condiment, this whole-food version of zhoug sauce could also be called “Spicy Cilantro Pesto.” Warm with cardamom and cumin and made as spicy as you like, oil-free zhoug 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 isn’t an authentic zhoug recipe (pronounced ZOO-g), yet it totally captures the spirit and flavor of the traditional sauce while using easier-to-find peppers and spices. The end result is a spicy, irresistible, FLAVOR-PACKED condiment you can use in so many different ways.
Big thanks to Trader Joe’s for introducing me to zhoug. Until a few months ago I’d never heard of it, and now Mark and I can’t stop slathering it on everything!
The problem with Trader Joe’s zhoug is that the second ingredient is canola oil. Considering that Mark can take down an entire container all by himself over the course of a few days, I knew I needed to make a more wholesome version. And for their richness, walnuts were an easy choice.
How to Make Oil-Free Zhoug
You’ll need a food processor for this recipe and about 10 minutes. (I use and love 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!
Ways to Use Zhoug Sauce
- with raw, steamed, roasted or grilled vegetables
- Buddha bowls
- avocado toast!
- sandwiches and wraps
- stirred into rice and other grains
- tossed with pasta (like you would with pesto)
- mixed with vegan yogurt for a spicy/cool sauce
Substitutions and Tips for Perfect Zhoug
Make this recipe nut-free by substituting 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 completely addictive AND nutritious, it’s easily adjusted to suit your palate.
- For less spicy zhoug, remove ALL of the seeds from the jalapeños, and omit the red pepper flakes.
- For extra spicy zhoug go ahead and 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.
I hope you enjoy this whole-food take on spicy zhoug sauce! If you try it I would love to hear from you. Be sure to comment below, and let us know your favorite ways to enjoy zhoug! You can also tag me in a photo on insta anytime with @myquietkitchen.
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Oil-Free Zhoug Sauce
- 2 bunches cilantro, use the leaves and small stems (2 cups, packed); discard only the thick end of stems
- 2 to 3 jalapenos
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1 1/4 cups raw walnut halves (sub pumpkin seeds for nut-free) Can use less or more for desired richness and texture.
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 3/4 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, 3/4 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 1/4 cups walnut halves and 1/4 cup water.Taste and adjust salt/spice as desired. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until ready to use.