Whether you're throwing beef, chicken, fish or tofu on the grill this weekend, one sauce that works with them all is chimichurri. It's easy to make and will earn you some culinary cred.
Chimichurri is a parsley-based sauce out of Argentina. There it accompanies grilled meats, chorizo and empanadas. There are countless ways to make chimichurri, ranging from a fresh-herbed, bright green sauce (like my version below) to one that is red hued and calls for dried herbs and cooking. Essentials for this sauce include parsley, oregano, vinegar and olive oil. From there, it's cook's choice.
To impress your guests further, you can regale them with some food history and mystery, as the origin of chimichurri is a bit sketchy. Credit is given to los gauchos, the cowboys of Argentina's pampas plains area, famously grilling meats and sausages over open wood fires. Their marinade and salsa of choice was a chimichurri likely made of dried parsley and oregano.
Some food etymology also points to non-Argentines as the source: an Englishman Jimmy Curry, a meat importer who traveled with gauchos in the mid 1800s and Irishman Jimmy McCurry, who marched with troops for Argentina's independence in the 19th century. In both cases, the stories say, the locals had difficulty pronouncing their last names and "chimichurri" resulted.
Others, like Argentinean gourmet and writer Miguel Brasco, say the name dates back to when England tried to invade the Spanish colony of Argentina. Allegedly, British prisoners asked for condiment for their food, mixing English, Aboriginal and Castilian Spanish words — "che-mi-curry" in English meaning "give me curry," later morphing into chimichurri. Another recent theory to surface is by barbecue expert Steven Raichlen, who links it to the Basque word "tximitxurri." The Basques settled in Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the apocryphal origin tales, you can be sure that this sauce will be a hit.
Chimichurri, especially this fresh-herbed version, is perfect for your grilled food. The fresh herbs, vinegar and lemon juice balance the fat in grilled meat. You can also use it as a salad dressing, marinade or, as my husband enjoys, on corn on the cob.
For a chunkier sauce, finely chop the ingredients by hand. For a quick version, chop them roughly before adding to a food processor (a mini-processor is the ideal size). For a smoother sauce, use a blender.
I've provided some recommended ranges for a few of the ingredients below and you can easily adapt the amounts to your own taste — more garlic for garlic fiends, more red pepper flakes for those who like it hot, etc. Start with the minimum and adjust incrementally, tasting as you go. Makes about 1 ¼ cup sauce.
1 ½ cups fresh flat leaf parsley, measured chopped (about 1 large bunch)
3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or seasoned white rice vinegar
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ to 1 tablespoon oregano, less if dried more if fresh
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
Red bell pepper, finely chopped (optional)
If making by hand, finely chop all ingredients. Otherwise, add all ingredients to the food processor or blender except for the olive oil, onions and red pepper. Pulse until it's mixed well. Add the oil, then pulse again. Add the finely chopped onion and red bell pepper. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Let the flavors meld for at least one hour and serve the sauce at room temperature.