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Chimichurri Chit-Chat

Posted Jan 30 2008 11:20am

Little time to make dinner. A limited choice of fresh herbs from the market or garden. A longing for big, bold flavors. It’s time to discover chimichurri.

Chimichurri is an Argentine sauce traditionally used on grilled meat. Multiple versions of chimichurri exist, but the essential formula is always the same: a generous handful of fresh herbs, a tangy splash of acid (e.g., vinegar or lemon juice), and the spicy bite of both garlic and cayenne, all anchored by the mellow warmth of olive oil. Think of it as the new pesto.

As fun as it is to say chimichurri, it’s the ease of preparation, versatility, and taste—at once fiery and fragrant, cool and refreshing­â€”that will win you over. I only discovered a 5 or 6 years ago (I honestly do not remember the precise when or where) but I was hooked on the first bite. And because it it relies on two always-available, low-cost herbs from the market (parsley and cilantro), I can make it year-round without a second thought.

The preparation? Place the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. No fuss. No muss. No kidding. Better still, the classic recipe may be used as a template—vary the herbs, acid and spices according to what’s on hand and what suits your taste.

Once made, use chimichurri on—well, just about anything. It is traditionally served with grilled steak, but it will enliven the plainest rotisserie chicken, chops, hamburgers, seafood, eggs, and tofu. For a sidedish with some wow, drizzle it over everything from couscous to roasted vegetables, or use as a vibrant dressing for salads, including green, potato, pasta, or coleslaw. It’s a superb marinade, to boot.

The emerald sauce will keep, covered and chilled, for three days. Place the chimichurri in the microwave for a few seconds (it thickens when chilled) before re-using or use the thickened sauce as an inspired spread for turkey or roast beef sandwiches.

So give chimichurri a whirl. With all these uses, and so little effort, what’s not to love?

Classic Chimichurri

Steamed and roasted vegetables are two of my top choices for a drizzle of chimichurri.

1 cup packed fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (to taste)
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Puree all ingredients in food processor or blender. Transfer to bowl. Makes about 1 cup.
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Camilla's Notes:
The chimichurri can be made up to 2 hours before serving. Store leftover sauce in a covered container for up to 3 days.

Variations:
Southeast Asian Herbs:
Prepare as directed above but (1) use 1/2 cup basil leaves, 1/2 cup cilantro and 1/4 cup mint leaves (in place of the 1 cup parsley, 1/4 cup cilantro combination); (2) replace the cumin with 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger; (3) replace the red wine vinegar with an equal amount of fresh lime juice. (Note: This version is especially good on chicken, pork shrimp and fish; or try drizzling it over baked sweet potatoes.)

Spanish Orange and Oregano: Prepare as directed above but (1) eliminate the cilantro and use all parlsley; (2) replace the red wine vinegar with an equal amount of sherry vinegar; (3) add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest to the mixture before blending; (4) replace the cumin with 1 teaspoon dried oregano. (Note: This version is especially good on chicken and pork.)
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Parsley Nutrition Notes:
Parsley is no nutrition slouch. Forget the innocuous garnishes and instead chop up the parsley for chimichurri and everything else you can think of. Here's why:
Parsley contains three times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much iron as spinach, is rich in vitamin A and contains folate, potassium and calcium.
In addition, researchers have discovered it has tremndous cancer-fighting potential (who knew?!). Some of the potent chemicals in parsley include:
Polyacetylenes, which seem to protect against certain cancer-causing substances found in tobacco smoke. It may also help to regulate the body's production of prostaglandin, which is a powerful tumor promoter.
Coumarins, which help prevent blood clotting, reducing your risk of arterial blockages that can lead to heart attacks.
Flavonoids, some of which act as anti-oxidants that neutralize dangerous free radicals, others that have been shown to prevent or slow the development of some cancers.
Monoterpenes, which are thought to have cancer-delaying properties, especially with breast tumors, and to reduce cholesterol.
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