Green sauces spice up the foods of summer

Nicaraguan Skirt Steak is marinated and sauced with a piquant parsley chimichurri. From "Latin Grilling" by Lourdes Castro.
Nicaraguan Skirt Steak is marinated and sauced with a piquant parsley chimichurri. From "Latin Grilling" by Lourdes Castro. (TARA DONNE)
Posted: July 20, 2012

It's easy to be smitten with the green sauces of summer.

Practically every savory meal or snack my family has consumed for the last few weeks has been a delivery vehicle for these uncooked mixtures based on cilantro or parsley harvested from a deck garden or the local farmer's market.

Those arepas and empanadas we get take-out from a Venezuelan restaurant? They're merely scoops for a spectacular vegetable puree called guasacaca that accompanies them in a much-too-small take-out tub.

The food at a certain Mexican place nearby is very good, but many customers are more in love with the bright, grass-colored blend that is a simple, no-recipe mash of pickled jalapeño juice, cilantro, and garlic.

No less alluring are chimichurri, the fresh parsley concoction that originated in Argentina, where it is used on grilled skirt steak; the green olive tapenade; and the pestos made from ground nuts, cheese, and herbs.

The fluffy avocado blend dubbed guasca is, like all of the sauces I've mentioned so far, a Zelig.

It's comfortable with anything you'd think to eat (OK, aside from dessert): crudites; grilled poultry, fish, meat, and vegetables; salads made of leafy greens or starches; hamburgers and hot dogs; potato chips, and as an addition to deviled eggs.

With tubs of these pretty, versatile, made-in-a-few-minutes blends in the refrigerator, you can send ketchup, summer's official condiment, on vacation.

They do a better job of enhancing and brightening the flavor of whatever they're paired with. Additionally, the sight of them is simultaneously soothing and uplifting.

You may be skeptical of Spicy Green Tea Pesto because it calls for fusing ingredients that we associate with China, Japan, Mexico, and Italy: green tea, cilantro, basil, pumpkin seeds, wasabi paste, jalapeño sauce, and sesame oil.

But it works. Make it ahead and fancy up anything grilled with little on-the-spot effort. Or use it on pasta.

Aside from parsley and cilantro, green sauce often leads to the avocado, especially when one enters the world of Latin cuisine.

It's a blessed addition, as the fruit native to central Mexico contributes flavor, creaminess, and more of the fresh, shall we say, greenness.

In her book Latin Grilling, Lourdes Castro features a recipe that I thought was the formula for the sauce I was eating with my arepas. I suspected it contained avocado.

But, no. Her Tangy Avocado Sauce (Salsa Guasca) is wonderful, but tangier and thicker than the one I sought.

Only later did I find a recipe from George Duran (of the Food Network) that comes very close to what I get at my local Venezuelan restaurant.

Duran's "Guasacaca" contains many similar ingredients — the onion, garlic, red wine vinegar, oil, cilantro, and avocado. But none of the yellow mustard and jalapeño that are important in Castro's take on the mixture.

What gives Duran's a miraculously different and equally addictive flavor is fresh, uncooked green pepper.

I recommend trying both.

Many recipes for chimichurri don't use it as a marinade, but Castro does, and then serves more of it as a sauce at the table. This produces a steak with a punchier flavor.

Heidi Swanson's "Avocados and Mustard Seeds" takes green sauce to India; indeed, she borrowed the general idea for it from Indian cooking expert Julie Sahni. It is the only "sauce" here that requires heat to saute the flavorings.

It also is the only one — it is fairly chunky — that would not work in a squeeze bottle.

I mention the squeeze bottle because my fantasy is having a half-dozen of them in the refrigerator filled with green sauces.

This would make it easier to apply to food — and squirt into my mouth when no one was looking.

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