Of the myriad dishes that sound better in languages other than English – tonkotsu for pig broth, xiaolongbao for soup dumplings – you might want to add salsa verde. Because “green sauce” sounds about as appetizing as a bowl of your kid’s kindergarten paint.
Call it what you like, salsa verde can be one of the most versatile and lovely sauces in any cook’s repertoire.
It’s easy, as you just throw a bunch of green stuff in a food processor (or a blender, or a mortar and pestle). It’s seasonally adjustable; the green stuff can be whatever you find at the farmers market – or languishing in your refrigerator. And you can tailor it to what you feel like cooking.
Historically, salsa verde has been many things to many people. In general, it’s defined as a sauce of herbs, some sort of acid (vinegar, citrus), olive oil (or mayonnaise) and perhaps dairy. You can add anchovies and capers or make it with or without tomatillos, garlic, onions and, of course, chilies. In the Middle East or Africa, you might throw cardamom, caraway and chilies in with your parsley and cilantro and call it zhoug. In Germany, you might add eggs and serve the stuff with schnitzel.
If parsley or cilantro is your baseline, add or substitute a handful of mint or basil or chervil. Instead of spinach, use a bunch of arugula or even raw kale.
You can also get more creative and throw some fresh kaffir lime leaves into the blender or experiment with the spectrum of your favorite chilies (if not a slice of jalapeño, then a few serranos or Fresno chilies). When you add citrus (use a splash of cider vinegar if you’re bereft of fresh lemons or limes), the zest adds another level of flavor that you can move up or down depending on your fondness for, well, flavor.
And then there are all the spices in your cabinet that can torque up the sauce even further. Throw in some ground Sichuan peppercorns, or add some minced fresh ginger.
Not unlike gremolata or pistou, salsa verde is good spooned onto grilled meat, fish and chicken, or into soups. Stir plenty of it into a big bowl of brown rice or a somewhat smaller bowl of ricotta. Dip your bread into it, or use it as a sauce for tacos or savory crepes.
Keep your new jar of salsa verde in the refrigerator since its flavor is contingent upon freshness. It’s green, after all, for a reason.
Prep time: 10 minutes.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest and juice of 2 limes
1 bunch cilantro, large stems removed
5 ounces raw spinach leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 cup water, more if needed
Put the garlic, salt, lime zest and juice into a food processor, and process until the garlic is chopped up. Add the cilantro, greens and olive oil, and process until smooth. Add water as needed to achieve the consistency of sauce.
Note: Raw jalapeño can be added for extra heat. Lemons can be substituted for the limes; parsley can be substituted for the cilantro (or use a combination); and one or a combination of other tender greens (such as baby chard, kale, arugula or other herbs) can be substituted for the spinach.