Israeli Hot Sauces – Zhug & Amba

So as we round out Condiment Week, I was trying to decide what today’s final recipe should be. We did the classics of mayo, mustard, ketchup and relish…. but what would be a good final note? So I thought to myself, what do you see on tables at restaurants? I know! Hot sauce! But no one is really going to make their own Tabasco or Texas Pete sauce at home (well, some people will, but most of us won’t).

But then I remembered one of my mom’s favourites! Amba! A slightly pickled, slightly spicy, savoury mango sauce that she just loves on her laffa! And of course, when you’re ordering up your laffa, you can always ask for it to be cha’reef (hot in Hebrew), which means the addition of Zhug, a spicy herb paste that really kicks it up a notch. So for today, we get two recipes, Amba and Zhug. Remember, you can always adjust the heat level by adding more or less chilies to the recipes. Enjoy and MAKE SURE TO WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE TOUCHING YOUR EYES!

Zhug

Zhug – Israeli/Yemeni Hot Sauce
Makes about 1 ¼ cup

Ingredients:

10 to 14 fresh green chilies or jalapeños, seeded if you like and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 to 8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground caraway seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
½ teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro*
½ cup packed parsley leaves*
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 4 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

* Click here to learn how to clean cilantro and parsley.

Directions:

Place the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse several times, until you get a smooth paste. You will have to scrape down all the bits and pieces that stick to the sides of the bowl.

Pack in a jar and store in the refrigerator. Zhug will keep for one to two weeks. You can also freeze it, but it will lose some of its garlicky flavor.

Amba

Amba – Spicy/Savoury Israeli Condiment
Makes about 1 one-cup

Ingredients:

2 ½ green mangoes
1 ¼ tablespoons salt
½ tablespoon corn oil
2 ½ tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seed (whole, not ground)
1 tablespoon dried red pepper (about 2 ½ tiny ones, or more to taste)
½ tablespoon ground fenugreek
1 tablespoon hot paprika
½ tablespoon turmeric
½ head garlic, peeled and finely chopped (HEAD, not cloves)
¼ cup corn oil (more or less, for finishing)

Directions:

Wash the mangoes well and cut them up (including the peel) into slices the size of your pinky finger. Coat with the 1 ¼ tablespoons of salt, and place the slices into a large jar. Close the jar and shake it to evenly distribute the salt. Place the jar in a sunny spot for 4 to 5 days to release all the liquid in the fruit. At the end of this time the mangoes should be a very light, yellow colour.

Drain the mangoes, but make sure to save the liquid. Allow the mango slices to dry, preferably in the sun, for 3 to 4 hours. Heat the ½ tablespoon of corn oil in a pot, and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, peppers, fenugreek, paprika and turmeric. Cook and constantly stir for a few seconds, until the spices begin to pop and make tiny explosive noises.

In a separate small pot, boil the saved mango liquid and then add it to the heated spice mixture. Add the mango pieces and the chopped garlic. Stir, and continue cooking for 5 minutes on a low flame. Make sure the mixture does not dry out too much. Remove from the flame and let cool completely. At this point you can leave it chunky, or use a blender to purée it smooth.

Pour the mixture into a clean container with a lid and cover with the remaining corn oil, and then seal. The amba will keep in the fridge for at least six months.

Chital Macher Muitha (Chital Fried Fish Dumplings)

Fish BallsIn the Calcutta or Kolkata region of India, Chital, also known as Clown Knife fish, is a popular fish used in many dishes. It is an interesting fish, in that it is carnivorous (meat eating) and often cannibalistic (eats its own kind). I’m not sure if it is in fact a kosher fish, but it is almost a moot point for those of us in North America, as it is very hard to get outside of certain specialty ethnic stores, and even then it’s frozen. Fresh, if it was kosher and possible to find, it’s apparently a nightmare to debone! Having said all that, I’m making this recipe less authentic by substituting Chital with any ground white fish. I’m sorry to all my Bengali enthusiasts out there, but sometimes, you have to make sacrifices in the name of food! All that being said, this recipe will serve 6 if served as a main entrée and can easily be cut in half for appetizer portions instead. I hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:

3 ⅓ pounds ground fish (any white fish)
1 ¼ cups cooking oil
6 medium potatoes, peeled
4 large tomatoes
6 medium onions
4-5 inch piece of fresh ginger (or 4 ½ tablespoons ginger paste)
2-3 green chilies (optional)
12 cloves of garlic (of ¼ cup bottled minced garlic)
4-5 bay leaves
3 teaspoons cumin powder
3 tablespoons butter/olive oil (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
4 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons turmeric powder
1 ½ cups water
cilantro (for garnish)*

* Click here to learn how to clean cilantro.

Directions:

In a large pot, bring the potatoes to a boil and cook through. While the potatoes are cooking, dice the tomatoes and onions, and set them aside. In food processor or blender puree the ginger and garlic (separately) so that you get a paste formed from them. If you are using chilies in this recipe, you can puree them as well with either the ginger or garlic.

Once the potatoes are done, drain the potatoes and mash them to a smooth consistency. Once the potatoes have cooled a bit, mix them together with the ground fish, 2 ¼ tablespoons of the ginger paste, the garlic paste, ½ the diced onions and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt.

In a deep sauté pan, heat the oil to about 350-375 degrees, or that when a bit of the fish mixture is dropped in, it starts to fry and bubble immediately. Make small balls out the fish mixture, like you would a meat ball, and drop them one-by-one into the hot oil. Do not over crowd the balls, as the more balls in the oil at once, the lower the oil temperature will drop, and you’ll wind up with oily fish balls rather than nicely fried ones. It is best to fry them in batches. Once the balls turn nice and golden, remove them from the oil and set them aside on a paper towel to drain any excess oil.

After all the fish mixture has been fried, add the bay leaves and remaining onions to the left over oil and fry for 2 minutes. After 3-4 minutes add the diced tomato and stir for another 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining ginger paste, turmeric powder and cumin, combining it well and allow it to cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the water and salt to the mixture, and bring to a boil.

Once the sauce has come together, return the fried fish balls to the sauce, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. After that, add the butter or olive oil, if adding, and the garam masala powder. Taste for salt, and mix well. Serve the fish balls and sauce hot over white rice.