Avanti Café’s executive chef and co-owner Mark Cleveland prepares Zhug, an herbaceous hot sauce that adds pizzazz to, well, just about everything. Read on …
Cleveland, executive chef and co-owner of Avanti Café in Costa Mesa, has a knack for creating vibrant flavors in vegetarian and vegan dishes. From his crunchy Asian noodles to a wide array of pizzas and hearty salads, he builds delightful palate surprise into every dish.
The video shows how he makes Avanti’s Zhug, a picante bright-green puree that adds delectability to everything from veggie burgers to hummus, grilled fish to brown rice.
Cleveland and co-owner Tanya Fuqua sell it in take-home jars to guests who just can’t get enough of it at the eatery (where he dollops it atop several dishes, including the “Hot Tacos”).
Avanti’s zhug (also spelled “skhug”) showcases fresh green chilies, fruit juices and spices including cardamom and caraway seeds, plus a generous amount of fresh green herbs. The taste is a blend of spicy-hot balanced with tart-sweet citrus and straightforward herbaceous notes.
Zhug hot sauce originated in Yemen and has become a staple of Israeli cuisine, where it is widely used as a table condiment. Cleveland uses Serrano chilies. I adapt his recipe to use large jalapenos instead (yes, I am a sissy). If you prefer sauces on the really, really on the mild side use Anaheim chilies (photo shows Anaheim above the ruler, a large jalapeno below). You may want to start by using half Serrano chilies and half jalapenos. Note that the chilies are NOT seeded, nor are the veins removed for this recipe.
The recipe makes about 2 quarts and can be divided up into small containers and frozen. Place it in ice cube trays to freeze, if you like, then pop out the “cubes” and freeze in a zipper-style bag. Note that freezing decreases the hotness. Or if you prefer, reduce the ingredients amounts by half and end up with only about one quart.
Take a spoonful and mix it with plain Greek yogurt to create a quick dip for veggies or a cold sauce for grilled fish.
And I will admit that I used it recently to doctor up a can of vegetable beef soup when unexpected guests turned up for lunch and my larder was empty. The company had no idea they were eating soup from a can and asked for the recipe. Hail to the secret zhug soup.
And when you drop by Avanti Cafe, be sure to sample one of their luscious made-to-order pizzas. Yum-oh-lah. Now here’s the recipe:
Avanti’s Zhug (adapted from Yemeni Hot Sauce)
Yield: about 2 quarts
8 bunches fresh cilantro, rinsed
3 bunches fresh Italian parsley, rinsed, thick stems cut off
Coarse salt for salting water, about 1 tablespoon
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 pound fresh Serrano chilies with seeds, stems removed, each cut in half, see cook’s notes
3 tablespoons ground cardamom
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
2 1/4 teaspoons citric acid, see cook’s notes
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups brewed hot green tea or hot water
Cook’s notes: I like a slightly milder version, so I use 6 large jalapeno chilies (cut in quarters with the seeds) instead of Serrano chilies. If you want an even milder sauce, use Anaheim chilies. The citric acid is optional; it keeps the sauce from discoloring. I use “Fruit Fresh” – a product sold in the canning section of the supermarket that is primarily citric acid. Use caution when working with fresh chilies; wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch eyes or face.
1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a 4- to 6-quart pan on high heat. Add salt to the water. Add parsley and cilantro in two batches, pushing it down with tongs and boiling for about 5 to 10 seconds to wilt it. Drain both batches well in colander. Coarsely chop and place in large bowl. Add all remaining ingredients to bowl except the hot tea. Stir to combine.
2. Working in 6 to 8 batches, puree in blender, adding a little hot tea to each batch before blending. If you have a heavy-duty blender, you can puree it in 3 to 4 batches, adding hot tea to each batch. Stir batches together to combine.