Schoog (schug), the fiery hot sauce of the Yemeni Jews is no longer a culinary curiosity of a small ethnic group but part of Israel’s communal table. This happened gradually, as Yemenite Jews began immigrating to the area in 1881, with the largest wave arriving during Operation Magic Carpet which brought nearly 500,000 Yemeni Jews to the country between 1949 and 1950. Despite its fairy tale name hundreds died during the exodus, which some blame on the botched planning of the mission and subsequent settling in Israel. Nonetheless, because of violence and repression against the Jewish community, they risked death en route rather than the precarious future in their home country.
Sadly, even after their arrival in Israel, the Yemenite suffered from discrimination by coreligionists who viewed them as a backward and uneducated mass. That was over 65 years ago. In time, as with all immigrant groups, the Yemenite eventually assimilated into Israeli society, their culture adding rich hues to the national fabric.
The Yemeni imprint on Israeli cuisine can be seen by a simple walk in a supermarket. Jachnoon- a rolled dough which is baked slowly overnight and malawach-a multilayered pancake are now sold in the freezer section near the borek and phyllo pastry. Worker’s diners which once catered mainly to the Yemenite community now attract a much wider patronage. Hawaij spice mixes both for coffee and stews are commonly found in spice stores across the country. And if you go to almost any falafel or shawarma stand, you’ll be asked “schoog?” before the rest of the ingredients are added.
For many, schoog or Yemenite hot sauce is often used interchangeably with harif- Hebrew for hot- and a seamless part of the language. There are still a few, mainly of Yemenite heritage, who refer to this condiment as schook or bisbas. While there countless recipes, the sauce can be divided into two main sub-types. The red and often hotter version is made with shata peppers, a small and very hot Capisicum annuum cultivar sold dried and whole, often straight out of burlap sacks. This is mixed with spices such as ground coriander seeds, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cilantro and a copious amount of crushed garlic. The green version, as expected, is made with green fresh chili peppers and similar spices and herbs.
Ready-made Yemenite hot sauces are sold by several companies, including big names such as Strauss and are usually found in the refrigerated section near the prepared salads. However, as all mass produced food products, they tend to be generic and lack the umph of freshly ground spices. The food processor or coffee grinder has taken over the mortar and pestle so it really is only a 5 minute job to prepare at home.
Here I present two recipes, including one from the cookbook The Yemenite Kitchen by Professor Avshalom Mizrachi, who specializes in folk medicine, nutrition and foodways of the Jews of Yemen.
200 grams green chili peppers such as Anaheim
100 grams cilantro leaves (coriander leaves), washed and patted dry
1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
3-4 cardamom pods
Chop the cilantro into large pieces, discarding fibrous stems and blemished stems and leaves. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor. Add water to dilute the mixture if necessary. Store in a closed jar in the refrigerator.
Notes: For those who prefer a milder sauce grated tomato (without the peel) can be added. To extend the shelf life, add the ground cilantro right before serving.
Yemenite Hot Sauce
Olive oil is not a traditional Yemenite ingredient. However, it is often used in Israel to cover the sauce to extend its shelf life.
This recipe is similar to the one above but changed slightly to what I had available.
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bunch cilantro, washed and patted dry (~1 packed cup).
3 green chili peppers such as Anaheim
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
A pinch of ground cloves (3-4 ground cloves)
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
Chop the cilantro into large pieces, discarding fibrous stems and blemished stems and leaves. In a food processor add all the ingredients except for the olive oil. Pour the contents into a small jar and cover with olive oil. Store in the refrigerator. Eat with everything!
For best results, it’s best to crush the garlic before adding them to the food processor for a smoother sauce.