Like many cookbook fanatics, I first came across shatta sauce in Falastin, the iconic cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. Tara is known to carry a jar of shatta in her bike pannier wherever she goes. And I understand why!
This delicious Middle Eastern hot sauce is a simple condiment with perfectly balanced acidity – use red or green chillies for red or green shatta.
Fermentation makes this spicy condiment more shelf-stable. It keeps in the fridge for six months – if you can resist the urge to eat it all. But, you can skip fermentation if you’re in a rush (use unfermented chilli sauce within one week).
I include instructions for fermented and unfermented shatta. However, it’s such an easy and rewarding fermentation project. Why not try it?
What is shatta sauce?
Shatta is a spicy Middle Eastern condiment made from ground chillies and olive oil – with optional vinegar and spices for flavour. Traditional shatta is made by pounding red or green chillies with salt and fermenting it in the sun. Though modern recipes – like this one – often call for food processors.
It is popular in Lebanese and Palestinian cuisine, but you can use it like any other hot sauce. Go ahead and spoon it over salads, dips and sandwiches.
- Green or red chillies: You can use chillies that best suit your heat tolerance. Try jalapeños for a mild sauce, serrano chillies for something spicier or green finger chillies for a fierce burn. I like to use a mix of the three. For successful fermentation, avoid chillies that have been coated in wax, treated with pesticides or irradiated.
- Non-iodised salt: Don’t use table salt for fermentation. Instead, look for salt that is free from anti-caking agents and iodine. These ingredients can inhibit the beneficial bacteria needed for lacto-fermentation. See more about lacto-fermentation below.
- Apple cider vinegar: I use my favourite organic apple cider vinegar. But you can use white wine vinegar too.
- Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice gives a citrusy acidity to balance the hot sauce, but you can also substitute the lemon juice with more vinegar.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Olive oil gives the spicy condiment its luscious texture. Use the best quality, best-tasting olive oil you have. You will taste the difference.
Tips for lacto-fermentation
When you ferment, you want to create a favourable environment for good bacteria while inhibiting the growth of bad bacteria.
In the case of lacto-fermentation, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) convert sugar into lactic acid. It gives lacto-fermented food its characteristic sourness – think traditional pickles or sauerkraut. Because of this, LAB can tolerate low-pH (acidic) environments. They are also salt-tolerant and anaerobic (they thrive in oxygen-free environments).
How much salt to use for lacto-fermentation
Some LAB can thrive in environments with up to eight percent salt. And starting a ferment with two percent salt is not uncommon (the resulting lactic acid will also help keep bad bacteria at bay). This shatta sauce recipe calls for five percent salt.
Calculate five percent of the trimmed and sliced chillies’ weight. For example, if my 250 grams of whole chillies result in 200 grams of trimmed and sliced chillies, I will use 10 grams of salt (200 × 0.05). Metric weight simplifies these calculations.
The best salt for fermentation
Use non-iodised salt that is also free from anti-caking agents. Iodine is mildly antimicrobial. While it won’t stop fermentation completely, it may inhibit the growth of safe microbes.
I use coarse desert salt that I grind at home, but non-iodised sea and kosher salt will also work well (check the ingredient list and product description to ensure it is free from iodine). Never use table salt – in addition to iodine, it also includes anti-caking agents.
The best temperature for lacto-fermentation
The bacteria thrive at temperatures between 18 °C and 22 °C (65 °F and 72 °F), but tolerate a much wider range. Cooler temperatures slow down fermentation, and warmer temperatures speed it up.
Fermenting at too warm temperatures can also create too much bacterial activity that results in off-putting flavours. At Noma restaurant, arguably one of the world’s best restaurants, they ferment at 28 °C (82 °F) with (obviously) great results. So adjust your fermentation time based on your temperature if you can’t control the temperature.
Tips for successful lacto-fermented chillies
- LAB are found on the skins of fruit, vegetables and humans. So don’t scrub your chillies too vigorously. Rinse them under running water to remove visible dirt. Avoid chillies that have been coated in wax, treated with pesticides or irradiated.
- LAB are tolerant of salt. But too much salt can harm them. And too little salt allows bad bacteria to thrive. Weigh your ingredients to control the salt content more accurately.
- Use non-iodised salt without any anti-caking agent.
- Always work in a clean environment with clean hands and sanitised equipment.
How to make fermented shatta
Fermented shatta sauce is one of the easiest fermentation projects you can take on at home. You require no specialised equipment, just a kitchen scale (set to grams) and sterilised jars. See the next section if you want to skip fermentation in favour of a quick unfermented shatta sauce.
The process is simple:
- Step 1: Rinse, trim and slice your chillies.
- Step 2: Calculate your salt weight as 5% of the sliced chilli weight.
- Step 3: Allow it to ferment for three days at room temperature.
- Step 4: Blitz and add lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and olive oil.
Process the chillies
Gently rinse the chillies but don’t scrub them too vigorously. Trim the stems and slice the chillies finely. I like to use a mandolin, but a sharp knife also works well. Remember to wear kitchen gloves when handling chillies – it can leave your hands feeling like they’re on fire for days! And yes, I know this from experience.
Calculate the salt weight
Weigh your sliced chillies and calculate five percent of the chilli weight. This is how much salt you will add. For example, if you have 200 grams of sliced chillies, add 10 grams of salt. Mix it well.
Allow it to ferment for three days
Add the mixture to a sterilised glass jar, seal it tightly, and place it in a dark cupboard. Check in daily to give the container a gentle turn to distribute the salty liquid evenly. My cupboard has a temperature of around 72 °F (22 °C).
After three days, open the lid carefully. It will off-gas slightly with a satisfying hiss and a potent chilli smell. You can extend the fermentation time up to 7 days, but you will need to open the jar to off-gas every day to ensure it doesn’t explode. For me, three days is the perfect fermentation time for shatta hot sauce.
Blitz and flavour
Drain off the spicy, salty liquid. (You can use the liquid in soups and stews that need a spicy kick – like this Moroccan red lentil soup.)
Place the chillies in a small food processor or spice grinder and blitz according to your preference. I prefer a coarse mix over a fine paste. You can also grind the chillies with a mortar and pestle.
Add the vinegar and lemon juice, mix to combine, and put the shatta in a sterilised jar. Top with the olive oil and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months. The oil will firm up and settle at the top, so give it a good stir before using.
Don’t want to ferment?
Fermentation is an optional step, but it extends the shelf-life of the condiment and creates an interesting balance in the acidic flavours. The final fermented sauce contains citric acid, lactic acid and acetic acid! But if you want spicy shatta sauce straight away, you can skip the fermentation.
An unfermented shatta will only keep for one week in the fridge (as opposed to six months when fermented).
For unfermented chilli sauce, simply blitz all the ingredients together. Add an extra tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and more salt to taste.
Frequently asked questions
Can I skip the fermentation process?
Yes, you can make a delicious unfermented green chilli sauce without the fermentation steps. But it will only keep in the fridge for one week (as opposed to six months for fermented shatta sauce).
Why are your fermentation recipes in metric weight only?
I include cup measurements wherever possible. But with lacto–fermented vegetables, the amount of salt required is calculated as a percentage of the vegetable weight. This amount is easier to calculate accurately by metric weight.
Can I ferment the chillies for longer?
Yes, you can ferment them for up to seven days. But, after the initial three days of fermentation, you will need to off-gas the jar daily. To off-gas (or burp) the container, open the jar to release pressure and reseal it tightly. The chillies will get more acidic the longer you ferment them.
How to use shatta sauce
Shatta is a delicious Middle Eastern hot sauce, and it pairs well with Lebanese and Palestinian cuisine. But you can also use it like any other chilli sauce. Spread it on sandwiches, or spoon it over dips and salads.
Serve shatta alongside harissa shakshuka with feta, black lime and parsley with fresh bread or these quick and easy no-yeast flatbreads.
Or use chunky shatta as a replacement for fresh chopped chillies.
Try these sauces with a teaspoon of shatta to replace the fresh chilli:
- Coriander salsa: Add shatta to the coriander salsa or simply spoon the shatta over the harissa red lentil soup with a dollop of yoghurt.
- Green tahini sauce: Make green tahini sauce to use as a dip or salad dressing like in this bulgur wheat salad with tahini herb dressing.
- Mango salsa: Tone down the heat in this mango habanero salsa by swapping the habanero pepper for a teaspoon of shatta.
- 250 grams chillies
- 10–12 grams grams salt, non-iodised with no anti-caking agents
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Rinse any visible dirt off the chillies, but don’t scrub them too vigorously.
- Trim and discard the stems, then thinly slice the chillies.
- Weigh your trimmed and sliced chillies and calculate 5% of your final sliced chilli weight. (If you have 200 grams of sliced chillies, 5% is 10 grams.)
- Add the sliced chillies and 5% salt to a bowl and mix well. If you do not want to ferment the chillies, skip ahead to step 7.
- Place the mix in a sterilised glass jar and seal it tightly. Put the container in a dark cupboard and give it a gentle turn daily to evenly distribute the salty liquid.
- After three days, open the lid carefully. It will off-gas slightly with a satisfying hiss and a potent chilli smell. Drain off the spicy, salty liquid.
- Place the drained chillies in a small food processor or spice grinder and blitz according to your preference. Do this in batches if needed. I prefer a coarse mix over a fine paste. You can also crush the chillies in a pestle and mortar.
- Add the vinegar and lemon juice, and mix to combine. Taste the sauce and add more salt if you prefer. It should be very spicy, slightly salty, and pleasingly acidic. Transfer the mix to a sterilised jar.
- Top the chilli sauce with olive oil and store it in the fridge for up to six months when fermented (or one week if you skipped the fermentation step).
- The oil will firm up and settle at the top, so give it a good stir before using.
- I use a mix of green chillies – such as jalapeño, serenade and green finger – but you can use any one of those. Or use red chillies for red shatta sauce.
- Wear protective gloves if you touch the chilli membranes and seeds with your hands. Or use a mandolin to avoid this.
- If you skip the fermentation step to make a quick chilli sauce, you don’t have to be so specific with the salt weight. But you should use the sauce within one week.
Middle Eastern recipes to serve with shatta
- Harissa roasted cauliflower: A buttery, spicy and indulgent vegetarian main to serve with Persian yoghurt.
- Barley pilaf with rose harissa: An easy Middle Eastern pilaf to pair with mast-o khiar.
- Persian eggplant stew: Slow-roasted eggplant stew with lentils and black lime.
- Arabic salad: A classic Middle Eastern-style chopped salad to serve alongside the yoghurt side dish.
- Kuku sabzi: An easy Persian herb frittata recipe packed with greens and just enough eggs to hold it all together.