White Bean Soup with Zhug
White Bean Soup with Zhug. (The Nosher via JTA)
(The Nosher via JTA) -- I recently stumbled upon a Yemenite Jewish cookbook from the early ’60s called "Yemenite & Sabra Cookery," by Naomi and Shimon Tzabar. It’s the type of cookbook I especially love to discover; the kind that covers a rare topic and is unusually designed. This one has beautiful wood-block print images scattered throughout. The recipes are more like sketches of how to make something rather than being clear directives.
The first page of the book features a recipe for zhug, a classic Yemenite hot sauce, and a few pages later there’s one for a very simple white bean soup. I’ve been a longtime fan of topping white bean soup with homemade pesto or herb sauce. Creamy rich white beans are well complemented by fragrant earthy fresh herbs.
As I skimmed through each page, these two recipes jumped out at me, calling to be combined.
Zhug (or skhug; pronounced s-kh-oo-g) is found throughout the Middle East, and was brought to and made popular in Israel by Yemenite Jews. It is used to add heat to many dishes, from falafel, to shwarma, to schnitzel, to sabich.
There are countless recipes for zhug, but it is always made with a combination of hot green or red peppers and cilantro/coriander. Often you’ll find it includes spices such as cardamom and caraway.
Zhug is spicy, vibrant and complexly flavored with the combination of these herbs and spices. It’s not your average hot sauce.
This white bean soup is simple at its core and made with leeks, carrots, celery and just a few other ingredients. You can use chicken broth or vegetable broth for the liquid — even water will work.
If you have the time, or an Instant Pot (yes!), making the white beans from scratch will make the soup significantly better. For one, you can infuse the beans as they cook and soften with extra flavor from garlic and bay leaf. Then, the infused cooking liquid can also be added to the soup.
You can cook the white beans and make the zhug several days in advance. Once everything comes together, and the soup is served and topped with the herby zhug, it makes this dish that much more impressive.
My first spoonful instantly warmed me. The spice and heat from the zhug, and the comfort of the creamy white beans, somehow elicit the feeling of heat from strong sunlight somewhere very far away.