Cool as a Cucumber
Oh dear me. I thought it was hot a few weeks ago. Little did I know that worse was yet to come! While there are a few pockets of renegade climate (anyone out in B.C., Washington State or Oregon?), large swaths of Canada and the United States are in the midst of a full-blown heat wave. I am fervently counting my prayer beads, and religiously perform a nightly rain dance, all to no avail.
When the heat and humidity reaches such unbearable levels, my body all but shuts down. I hardly eat or sleep; I move about in a haze, functioning on basic mode. I can hardly get myself to cook under such conditions. What little energy I have is spent putting up with the heat at work; by the time I get home, I just barely manage to eat whatever can be consumed raw and cold. A cool cucumber I am not.
For all you brave souls out there who turn on your barbecues and grills to cook your suppers, the following is a recipe you want to keep in your pocket. It is a sauce that will make use of the beautiful produce that are abundantly available at this time of the year, and it is perfect on grilled meats, fish and seafood. It goes by several monikers, depending on the country of origin: salsa verde in Italy, chimichuri in Argentina, this sauce is also lovely over grilled or raw vegetables. Ocasionally, anchovy paste is added to salsa verde when used over vegetables, but it is completely optional.
Although parsley is most commonly used, any tender herb can be used in the salsa. And there is a plethora of choice right now: cilantro (coriander); basil; fennel or dill (perfect with fish and seafood); tarragon; garlic scapes; green onions (spring onions/ scallions); chives, and the lists goes on. Celery leaves, while technically not a herb, are also a tasty addition to the sauce. Often discarded, and much overlooked, celery leaves are more than mere garnish for bloody marys, they add a lovely chartreuse colour to the sauce, and are mild enough to go unnoticed by celery nay-sayers like myself. Even though I consider Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano as some of my favourite aromatics, you want to keep them to a minimum in the sauce, lest they overpower other flavours.
Yields about 500ml/ 2cups
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 large bunch fresh herbs
60 ml/ ¼cup red wine or cider vinegar, or lemon juice
250ml/ 1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Finely chop the onion and garlic cloves.
In a mixing bowl, mix the vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Set aside.
Remove the herb leaves from stalks, top and tail green onions and garlic scapes, if using.
Roughly chop or tear the herbs, before adding to the onion mixture.
Add the olive oil.
Check the seasoning, and let sit for at least half an hour before serving.
This salsa verde is divine over any grilled meat, fish, or vegetable. In fact, you can think of it as a lighter, more summery version of a compound butter, such as beurre maître d'hôtel: try it over new potatoes, a T-bone steak, lamb chops or a slab of wild salmon. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator; the olive oil will congeal, but become liquid again once it reaches room temperature.
By the way, some of you will be finding kohlrabi and fennel bulbs in your CSA baskets. Both these vegetables invoke a lot of head scratching for anyone unfamiliar with them. Fennel bulb has a distinct anise flavour that can be quite pronounced when grown under sweltering conditions. The fragrant fronds are delightful in salsa verde, and the bulb can be sliced thinly and doused with the sauce. Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family: it is basically the enlarged stalk of a cabbage. The leaves can be eaten like cabbage or kale, and the bulb can be cut into batons and consumed raw. If the bulbs have been sitting in your fridge for a while, it might have to be peeled, as its skin thickens in storage. The flavour is reminiscent of broccoli stems. Both bulbs are actually sublime when braised in a liquid of your choice or confit in olive oil, but it is much too hot to even consider cooking them right now.
P.S. August 6th is National BBQ Day , and Meal Exchange is calling on all Canadians across the country to host a BBQ with locally-grown food in support of our local food economy. Every Canadian deserves access to healthy, nutritious food, and this starts with you! Anyone who hosts a BBQ will have a chance to win 2 tickets courtesy of West Jet!
Check out the National BBQ Day website for more information. (Thanks for the heads up Anne!)