Some Yemenis cannot have their food without spicing it up with some Skhug. Skhug is a mixture of dry and fresh peppers with parsley or cilantro, garlic, cumin and salt. It’s neither a sauce nor a paste or a spread; but it rather has a grainy texture that I don’t know what to call it other than using its name – Skhug. Traditionally all the ingredients were mashed between two stones. The vegetables were placed on one big stone and a person holding a smaller stone worked hard to mash everything together to a rustic mixture. As a kid I used to see our old neighbor Shams make Skhug in her back yard using stones. The big stone was part of her garden décor. Skhug is used to spice up soups, sandwiches, cheeses, omelets (mix it with eggs before frying) and breads.
My mother, rest her soul in peace, found Skhug to be an effective behavior correction tool. At the age of 5 I was a feisty angry little girl with a very filthy mouth. I learned lots of curses from other kids in my kindergarten. In one of my tantrums, when my mother had enough of my language she pushed a spoon full of Skhug into my mouth. My tongue was on fire for some time. I haven not been cursing since that day. I don’t believe this method is legal these days.
Today I find Skhug/Schug in many grocery stores. The advantage of making it at home is the ability to control the heat. Using habanero chili will make the Skhug very spicy. Using mild peppers such as Anaheim or Pobland will yield mild to medium spicy Skhug. Skhug can be red or green, depends on the peppers you use. At home, my mother used to make a non-spicy Skhug. She suffered from Sjogren’s syndrome that caused her tongue to be very dry and easy to crack. Eating spicy or sour food was intolerable for her.
The recipe below is just one example to to making Skhug. Feel free to use different peppers and different quantities. The Yemenite kitchen leaves a lot of room for creativity. To process the ingredients you can use either a food processor, as I use here, or a mixer. When using a mixer, add about half a cup of water to the mixture. Skhug can last in the fridge for months. I don't know any bacteria that can survive in this spicy environment. You can also freeze it.
1 head of garlic
1 bunch of parsley/cilantro
3 Anahiem peppers
3 Jalapeno peppers
6 Serrano peppers
4oz/100gr. dry chilli red peppers
1 tbsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Yields 2 cups of Skhug.
Chop parsley/cilantro roughly. Pill all garlic cloves. Remove all fresh peppers heads and cut them in big slices.
Place all ingredients, including salt and cumin, in a food processor or a mixer. Add 1/2 cup of water if you use a mixer.
My mother's non-spicy Skhug mixture:
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup parsley leaves
1 garlic clove
In this mild mixture I use a trick I learned from raw cooking to make the garlic flavor less pungent and dominant. Cut the garlic clove in half. Remove the germ from the center. The germ is hard to digest, which is why it leaves a long lasting strong garlic flavor in the mouth.
Mix all ingredients in a food processor or a mixer. Don't forget to add a little water if you use a mixer.
Yields 1/4 cup.
Best mixed with yogurt.