As the temperature rises outside, my interest in cooking goes dormant. The only thing I want to feed this time of year is my addiction to late afternoon swimming. Luckily, my summer kitchen aversion coincides with my husband’s passion to fire up his beloved Big Green Egg. I egg him on as I grab my towel and head for the pool.
Although steak, chicken, lamb and seafood are all pretty spectacular simply grilled over Drake’s fancy wood chips du jour, I do miss the pan drippings and braising liquids you don’t get with grilled foods. There’s a solution to the gravy vacuum: green sauce, a condiment found in warm weather regions all over the world. This herb-based sauce provides flavor and juiciness with minimal cooking effort. In fact, it requires no cooking at all! If you can make a smoothie, you can make green sauce.
Chimichurri, pesto, salsa verde, sauce verte, green chutney or chermoula – all these are variations of the same theme, a blend of uncooked herbs, acid, oil, garlic and seasonings. To this universal formula, Italian pesto adds cheese and nuts; Mexican salsa verde adds tomatillos and chilies; Thailand’s sauce incorporates ginger and fish sauce.
The green part can be most any herb or even a pungent leafy vegetable such as watercress or arugula. This time of year, whatever green you want to use – basil, parsley, mint or cilantro – is probably growing in a pot in your backyard.
You don’t have to be a meat eater or own a grill to utilize summer green sauces. Gussy up roast chicken or cold salmon with it. Drizzle it on potatoes, rice, pasta or quinoa. Low-carbers will love it on mashed cauliflower or zoodles. A plain hamburger patty is transformed into a special treat with just a dollop of green sauce.
Though most recipes recommend mixing the ingredients with a food processor, I’m happy with the rough puree I get from a blender. I put all the ingredients in together, punch the puree button and let it run for just a few seconds. The biggest effort required is poking the greens down into the bottom if the sauce doesn’t appear to be blending evenly. Stop blending before it gets too smooth – a little chunkiness is desirable.
Basic Green Sauce
4 cups loosely packed herb leaves
½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup acid (lemon juice, wine vinegar or both)
2 large garlic cloves, chopped roughly
2 Tbsp. chopped shallots or scallions (optional)
1 chopped small jalapeño (or ¼ – ½ tsp. red pepper flakes)
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients in a blender and blend to a rough puree. Adjust seasonings and serve cold or room temperature. The sauce will keep in a sealed container for several days in the refrigerator.
For the herbs, use equal parts parsley and cilantro and a small amount of fresh oregano if you like.
Moroccan Chermoula Sauce
For the herbs, use equal parts cilantro, mint and parsley.
For the acid, use lemon juice.
Add ½ tsp. grated lemon zest, ¾ tsp. each ground coriander and cumin (to heighten flavor, roast the seeds and grind them yourself if you have time), and 1 tsp. smoked paprika.
Asian Green Sauce
For the herbs, use roughly 2 cups cilantro, 1 cup mint and 1 cup basil.
For the acid, use rice wine vinegar.
Add 1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, ¼ tsp. toasted sesame oil, and use scallions instead of shallots.
For the herbs, use baby arugula.
Omit the acid, scallions and chili or red pepper. You may need to increase the oil to compensate for liquid lost by omitting the acid.
Add 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts or pine nuts.
After blending, stir in 1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.