I’ve been exploring herb-based sauces for the last couple of weeks and wanted to share three of my favorites with you. They aren’t Southwestern, but they are all made with ingredients we’re very familiar with here in the desert.
They come from three parts of the world, but they share common ingredients — and I’ll bet you have everything for at least one of them on hand or close by.
I find their similarities as fascinating as their differences — and love that each requires few special or hard-to-find ingredients.
If you made the preserved lemons I wrote about recently, you’re all set to make a classic Moroccan chermoula — but even without the preserved lemon, the chermoula will boost your dinner’s style. I learned about it at my sister’s table, the legacy of her Peace Corps years in Morocco.
I can still remember the first time I tasted chimichurri, at a Texas Hill Country chef’s event, where it was served over slices of simply grilled flank steak. I attended the event with a food editor friend, and she’s still laughing about how my eyes popped with surprised delight at my first taste.
Z’hug came into my life during my years as a food writer in Chicago, and the recipe here reflects how my version has evolved in the intervening years. I like it fiery, but there are tips to soften its heat if you don’t want it as hot as I do.
Here’s why I love these sauces. As I get older, my cooking style gets simpler. I’m likely to have simply sautéed chicken or fish, or grilled beef, alongside vegetables for most suppers. But “simply prepared” doesn’t mean boring or uninspired. Each of these sauces — which you can also use as marinades or salad dressings — brings variety to the meal.
All three recipes suggest the use of a food processor. If you don’t have one, you can use a blender. All three remain good in the fridge for a couple of weeks. If you cover the surface of the sauce with olive oil, they’ll last longer.
Makes 1 to 1½ cups
A Moroccan classic, chermoula is often used to marinate fish or poultry, but its bright citrusy flavor complements many foods. Thin it with additional olive oil or stir some into yogurt for a marinade or salad dressing or spoon a little over grilled items to add a lively pop of flavor.
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 ½ cups cilantro leaves, packed
1 cup parsley leaves, packed
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, packed
¼ preserved lemon, rind only, optional
3 cloves garlic
Juice of ½ medium lemon
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ to 1 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin and coriander seeds until they’re fragrant and begin to pop, about one minute. Remove from the skillet, set aside to cool, and then grind in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine ground cumin and coriander, cilantro, parsley, mint, preserved lemon rind, garlic, lemon juice, paprika and red pepper flakes. Whiz until the mixture is a coarse paste, scraping down the sides of the work bowl once or twice.
Thin the paste by dribbling in the olive oil as the food processor runs. If you plan to use the chermoula as a sauce, use the smaller amount of oil; if you want a marinade, use the larger amount.
Season the mixture with salt and pepper and scrape into a jar with a close-fitting lid. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Makes about 1 cup
You’ll sometimes see z’hug called “Yemeni pesto,” but it’s nothing like the Italian classic. It’s a table condiment at many restaurants, and its ferocity depends mostly on how hot the peppers are. Use serranos if you want it fierce and leave the seeds in the peppers for even more heat.
3 whole jalapeños or serrano peppers, seeded
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro, small stems OK
1 bunch parsley, small stems OK
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup olive oil
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine peppers, garlic, cilantro, parsley, cumin, salt, lemon juice and red pepper flakes. Whiz until the mixture is a coarse paste.
With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape the mixture into a jar with a close-fitting lid and refrigerate until needed.
Makes about 1½ cups
Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce, popular as a table sauce for that country’s grilled meats. A tablespoon or two stirred into mayonnaise makes a terrific dressing for sandwiches, too.
1 large bunch cilantro, small stems OK
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, small stems OK
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine cilantro, parsley, cumin, salt, cayenne, garlic and lemon juice. Whiz until the mixture is a coarse paste.
With the food processor running, drizzle in the oil and process until well-blended. Scrape into a jar with a close-fitting lid and refrigerate until needed.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby.” Follow her blog as she writes her third book, “The Feast of the Dove,” at www.thefeastofthedove.com.
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