May 09, 2023

Cook This: This grilled swordfish is all about the sauce

It's officially grill season. While you’re brushing off the grill grates and prepping your proteins and vegetables, don't forget to make a bright and zesty sauce for serving. Herbaceous, citrusy condiments, such as salsas and pestos, will complement and elevate your charred grill food. And zhoug is one sauce you should consider adding to your repertoire.

Zhoug (pronounced zoog) is a ubiquitous Yemenite condiment composed of fiery green chiles, fresh leafy herbs and ground spices, including cardamom, caraway, coriander and cumin. Toasting and grinding whole spice seeds is worth the extra step and will deliver the deepest, most fragrant flavor to the sauce.

The toasting method is easy: Simply heat the whole spices in a small skillet until fragrant, then finely grind them in a mortar or spice grinder. For the cardamom, crack open the pods to release the small dark seeds and discard the pod shells. (To do this, place the pods on a work surface and bang them with the bottom of a mug or a heavy-bottomed drinking glass.) If whole spices are not available, ground jarred spices may be substituted.

Zhoug is meant to be spicy, but you can regulate its heat by including or omitting the seeds of the chiles. Once prepared, zhoug has myriad uses. Swirl it into yogurt for a dip or smear it on flatbread, sandwiches and burgers. Thin it with olive oil for an herby salad dressing, or use it as a garnish for eggs, stews, grains and couscous. It's also delicious spooned over roasted vegetables, meat, chicken or fish, such as the swordfish in the recipe below. Once made, the sauce can be refrigerated for up to five days. Note that its heat will diminish with time. Serve the zhoug at room temperature.

Serves 4; makes about 1 cup sauce

4 swordfish steaks, each 6 to 8 ounces and 3/4 to 1-inch thick

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Lemon wedges


1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon green cardamom seeds, from about 4 pods

4 spicy green chiles, such as serrano or jalapenos, seeded if desired, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

Make the zhoug: Combine the caraway, cumin, coriander, peppercorns and cardamom seeds in a small skillet. Toast over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Transfer the spices to a spice grinder or a mortar with pestle and finely grind. Combine the ground spices, chiles, garlic, cilantro and mint in a food processor. Pulse to chop. Add the oil, lemon, salt and Aleppo pepper and process to blend. If too thick, add more oil to achieve a salsa consistency. Taste and add more salt if desired.

Brush the swordfish with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill over direct medium-high heat until well-marked and cooked through the center, turning once, 8 to 10 minutes.

Alternatively, arrange the swordfish in a baking dish. Place in a 400-degree oven. Roast until cooked through the center, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steaks. If desired, turn on the broiler about 1 minute before finished to lightly brown.

Serve the swordfish with lemon wedges and the zhoug for spooning and drizzling.

Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.

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