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Exploring Sauces: The 10 Green Sauces of World Cuisine

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Every culture uses the herbs of their garden to craft a condiment to accompany the foods they love.

Every culture uses the herbs of their garden to craft a condiment to accompany the foods they love.

Green sauces—a simple idea with world-wide appeal. They occur everywhere around the globe, rely on simple local ingredients, necessitate only basic kitchen skills, and require minimal time to prepare. Each culture uses the herbs of their garden and crafts this basic condiment to accompany the foods they love.

Let’s explore the origins of ten of these sauces, how to make them, and how to use them in dishes for your friends and family.

1. Chermoula (Morocco)

Created in Morocco, chermoula is a blend of the earthy flavors of coriander and cumin. Chilies add a subtle bite of heat, and olive oil binds it all into a warm, flavorful paste. Tradition pairs it with fish, but common sense dictates that it would be equally wonderful with chicken and vegetarian dishes.

The blend is the heart of Moroccan food. It has a hint of floral and it has flavor, but it's not super spicy. Moroccans often start with a classic spice blend called el ras hanout, or "top of the shop," commonly including cumin, cardamom, and coriander. But each spice vendor will put a special spin on the blend. Anytime you say chermoula, people think flavorful, and they smile and they want to have it with their meal. They're expecting a spice rub that is delicious.

— Marcus Samuelsson, renowned Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef who specializes in African cuisine

Ingredients

  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • a pinch cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place the cumin, paprika, and coriander in a saute pan and cook over medium heat for 30–60 seconds or until fragrant.
  2. Combine these spices with the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, scraping down the sides occasionally, until smooth.

How to Use Chermoulah

  • marinade for pan-roasted lamb chops
  • stir into mayonnaise to make a dip for crunchy chicken nuggets
  • brush on grilled shrimp
Chili Herb Dipping Sauce (Thailand)

Chili Herb Dipping Sauce (Thailand)

2. Chili Herb Dipping Sauce (Thailand)

This sauce from Thailand is unlike any sauce (green or otherwise) you have ever tried. It's thickened not with eggs or emulsion, cheese or breadcrumbs, but with rice. Uncooked rice grains are pulverized into a powder and provide the body for this tangy dip.

Matt Duckor of Epicurious shares his amazing story and wonderful recipe.

How to Use Chili Herb Dipping Sauce

  • dipping sauce for pot stickers or spring rolls
  • add to stir-fries
Chimichuri (Argentina)

Chimichuri (Argentina)

3. Chimichuri (Argentina)

Chimichurri (pronounced chee-mee-CHOO-ree)—the name itself is almost as delightful as the Argentinian mixture of parsley, oregano, garlic, and white vinegar. Etymologists disagree on the origin of this strange moniker. Some believe it to be from the Basque’s tximitxurri. Those with a sense of humor point to the story of ‘Jimmy Curry’, an Englishman who joined the fight for Argentine Independence. His name, being difficult for Argentines to pronounce, morphed into chimichurri.

It's not a marinade, not a ketchup; this herbaceous blend tastes amazing on grilled meat. (Remember it for your next cookout.) Karena of CafeDelites gives us this bright, flavorful chimichurri which she vows to be authentic.

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How to Use Chimichurri

  • place a dollop (or more) on top of grilled steak
  • drizzle on shrimp tacos
  • brush on vegetable skewers
Green Chutney (India)

Green Chutney (India)

4. Green Chutney (India)

Like many green sauces, the green chutney of India uses chilies for some heat, lemon juice for tang and to keep the green color bright, and sweet-herby cilantro. But those three elements are the understudies; mint leaves are the star of the show.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cilantro (leaves and tender stems)
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup spinach leaves
  • 2 green chilies (serrano or jalapeno, remove ribs and seeds to tame the heat)
  • 2 slices bread (crusts removed)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt to taste
  • water

Instructions

Place all ingredients EXCEPT water in the jar of a blender. Process, scraping down sides occasionally, until smooth. Add water as needed.

How to Use Green Curry Chutney

  • commonly used in India as a sandwich spread with fresh tomatoes, onion, and cucumber
  • dipping sauce for samosas or fresh vegetables
Green Goddess (United States)

Green Goddess (United States)

5. Green Goddess (United States)

In 1921 William Archer wrote and produced a four-part play entitled “The Green Goddess.” The setting was the remote Himalayan province Rukh. This fictional realm was ruled by an unusual gentleman, the Raja. Although born and raised in the East, the Raja was educated at Cambridge University, England.

Audiences were enthralled with the story—exotic sets and costumes, drama (a downed airplane carrying four British passengers), a love triangle, the threat of an-eye-for-an-eye justice, and human sacrifice to a goddess statue.

It was perfect escapism for an audience seeking respite their feelings of loss, grief, and hardship resulting from World War One. The star of the play (which ultimately became a silent movie in 1923 and then a talking picture in 1930) was George Arliss as the Raja of Rukh.

Why am I telling you about a play that was written and produced almost a century ago? The executive chef of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco was simply enchanted with the movie and the star, George Arliss. In tribute, he created a special salad dressing with an exotic green hue, and it was (of course) named “Green Goddess.”

Many "versions" of the dressing have been created and marketed over the years, but this one from KalynsKitchen is as close to the original as you will find. The key to the flavor of this dressing is fresh tarragon leaves which impart a sweet hint of licorice and contribute to the beautiful soft green color.

How to Use Green Goddess

  • salad dressing
  • dip for crudités plate

6. Gremolata (Italy)

Italian parsley, garlic, and lemon zest—how can only three so common, ordinary ingredients create such an amazing condiment? Truly the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. (Of course, with so few components, you need to ensure that what you use is the best quality.)

Gremolata is so simple you really don't need a recipe (but I'll supply one anyhow along with hints on what to look for to get top-quality ingredients):

  1. One clove garlic: use firm cloves that are plump and white, with no blemishes and no green shoots.
  2. Two lemons: you are using only the zest, so you will need to wash and dry your beautiful yellow lemons and have on hand a microplane. (It will come in handy for the garlic too!)
  3. One bunch of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley: wash and dry carefully (a salad spinner is great for doing this). Don't use the bottom stems. They tend to be fibrous and stringy. Pull off the leaves. You will need enough to make 1 cup. Then chop as finely as possible with a good chef's knife.

How to Use Gremolata

  • Ossobuco. The word means "hollow bone." What a simple name for such an amazing dish of complex flavors. Created centuries ago in the Lombardy region of Italy, ossobuco begins with a veal shank, a tough, sinewy cut. It braises for hours in a broth of white wine and vegetables and is transformed into melt-in-the-mouth submission.
  • Everything else. I love it on chicken, fish, scallops, and shrimp. Stir it into minestrone soup, use it as a dip for fresh vegetables, smear it on bruschetta.

The meat should be soft as the leg of an angel who has lived a purely airborne existence.

— Billy Collins, poet

Pesto (Italy)

Pesto (Italy)

7. Pesto (Italy)

There is no green sauce that gives me more pleasure than the basil pesto of Northern Italy. I say this not because of flavor, cost, or ease of preparation. It is basil pesto that brings back wonderful memories for me. Pesto and I were introduced to one another in 2006 in a place named the Cinque Terra.

The Cinque Terre (5 Lands) is a group of five small coastal villages on the west coast of Italy. Monterosso, the northernmost town, is the only one that feels ‘touristy". If you love the Riviera (beach, boardwalk, and luxury hotels) this is the place for you. Then there is Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, and Vernazza. These four still hold their old-world charm with narrow crooked streets, bell towers, castellos, fishing boats—and a footpath links them together. My favorite of the five towns and the place at which we stayed was Vernazza.

Vernazza is described in guidebooks as "a quaint little fishing village," but it’s so much more than that. Colorful homes cling to the cliffs. A lovely harbor nestles under the shadows of an ancient castle. The hills are dotted with ancient olive trees and wine-producing grape vines, still tended by hand, on steeply terraced slopes. Most of all, Vernazza is about putting aside the frantic pace, inhaling deeply, and taking life at a slower pace.

We stepped off the train at Vernazza in mid-afternoon...and stepped into another world. There are no cars in Vernazza. No traffic. No horns blaring—just the pleasant sounds of people laughing and talking, and merchants bargaining with townsfolk and tourists. A gentle sloping cobblestone road leads through the center of town past storefronts and apartments. Within 10 minutes we arrived at Trattoria Gianni. Whitewashed steps led to the room we had rented for the weekend. We hastily unpacked, and then descended the steps to the plaza. Five hundred feet away was the sand, the breakwater, and a view of the sea…which becomes the ocean…and becomes forever.

As evening approached we sat at a table in the courtyard of Trattoria Gianni. Our meal began with a basket of crusty bread, and a bottle of Gianni’s family wine. We asked our server for his recommendation; he said: "You must try the trofie."

Trofie is a free-form pasta which Gianni served with thinly-sliced new potatoes and slender fresh green beans, all tossed with homemade basil pesto. It was love at first bite.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups basil leaves, gently packed
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (yes, pine nuts are traditional, but walnuts are easier to find)
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Instructions

Place basil, walnuts, and garlic in the bowl of food processor. Pulse into finely chopped. Add oil, cheese, and salt and process until a smooth paste, stopping several times to scrape down sides of the bowl.

How to Use Basil Pesto

  • stir into or spoon on top of hot pasta
  • use in place of red sauce on your favorite pizza recipe
  • spread on crostini
  • spoon on top of hot baked potatoes
  • serve with grilled steak or chicken
Salsa Verde (Mexico)

Salsa Verde (Mexico)

8. Salsa Verde (Mexico)

Salsa verde gains its brilliant green color and citrusy flavor from tomatillos, an ancient cousin of the tomato. (The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family and shares its heritage with not only tomatoes, but potatoes, tobacco, and petunias). This fruit, which means “little tomato” in Spanish, was cultivated by the Aztecs in Pre-Columbian times.

The blog WannaBite provides an easy recipe for us. Simply pan roast the vegetables in the oven and then toss in your food processor. Oven-roasting will add a sweetness and lend a smoky flavor.

How to Use Salsa Verde

  • tacos, burritos, enchiladas, nachos, tostadas
  • stir into cooked rice
  • amazing on top of scrambled eggs
Sauce Verte (France)

Sauce Verte (France)

9. Sauce Verte (France)

Recently my favorite foodie website, Serious Eats, presented a recipe for grilled squash and sausages. If that doesn’t sound wonderful enough, they topped the grill-blistered zucchini and French garlic links with sauce verte from Jeanne Kelly’s book “Kitchen Garden Cookbook.”

Some recipes for sauce verte rely on mayonnaise as the base, and simply stir in a few minced green herbs. Kelly uses handfuls of fresh basil and parsley for a chunky puree bright with capers and lemon juice. In my kitchen, I replaced the basil with French tarragon leaves. Both basil and tarragon have licorice-anise notes, but they are distinctly different from one another. Try the sauce both ways and let me know which one you prefer.

How to Use Sauce Verte

  • on baked or poached fish
  • on grilled or roasted chicken
  • as a dressing on fresh salad greens
  • dip or drizzle on crudites
Zhoug (Yemen)

Zhoug (Yemen)

10. Zhoug (Yemen)

Zhoug was originally brought to Israel by Yemeni Jews, and now it shows up on EVERYTHING in the Middle East and is gaining fame in Northern Europe as well. It's simple, fresh, and hot.

Sala at VeggieBelly (a great site for vegetarian recipes) gives us this authentic zhoug and has the following recommendations for how to use this spicy condiment at your table.

How to Use Zhoug

  • stir it into soups
  • spoon it over eggs
  • serve as a dip with vegetables and pita bread
  • mix into cooked rice or quinoa
  • use as a sandwich spread; its great mixed with some hummus

© 2018 Linda Lum

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