A few days ago I was looking for a way to make a dish of plain cooked vegetables more enticing. Rather than drizzling my medley of cauliflower, potatoes, carrots and zucchini with olive oil, as I often do, I spooned a little Mexican style avocado sauce over the vegetables. The sauce was completely different from Mexican guacamole, or avocado puree. Instead of being dominated by the avocado, it gained most of its flavor from fresh coriander blended with hot green peppers, a little onion, salt and a touch of vinegar, and was diluted to thin sauce consistency with water. I had previously enjoyed this sauce with grilled chicken but it turned out to be just as good on vegetables.
This type of no-cook herb sauce seems to be popular in just about every cuisine to accompany simply cooked foods. Italian salsa verde, often served with poached meat, has chopped parsley as its main element, mixed with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar and flavored with anchovies, capers, onions, garlic and pepper. The most basic version is a mixture of parsley, a little garlic and olive oil to taste. In summertime fresh basil might replace all or part of the parsley. Many cooks like to stir in diced hard boiled eggs to make the sauce more substantial. Pine nuts or walnuts might be added, and then the sauce begins to resemble the popular pesto.
Similar herb sauces are made all around France. In Brittany, for example, a sauce for hors d'oeuvres known as cold Breton sauce is made by combining chopped chives, parsley, chervil (a delicate herb vaguely resembling parsley) and finely chopped pickled cucumbers and whisking in vegetable oil and vinegar. Some cooks finish the sauce with a spoonful of thick creme fraiche.
A Moroccan green sauce popular for serving with grilled or fried fish is composed of a generous amount of fresh coriander or parsley blended with garlic, ground red pepper, salt and a little vinegar or lemon juice. Part of the sauce is sometimes used to marinate the fish, and the rest is served with the grilled fish.
When I tasted delicate poached chicken at a Vietnamese restaurant, I liked it very much because of the green dipping sauce that came with it. This sauce too was very simple, made of green onions blended with fresh ginger, salt and a little oil.
Such sauces are easy to make at home. The components are either whirled in a blender or food processor or simply mixed in a bowl. Serve these sauces whenever you want to add a lively touch to any food cooked without sauce-grilled, roasted or poached chicken, meat or fish, boiled vegetables or hard boiled eggs.
GRILLED CHICKEN WITH ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE
Popular in Italy, green sauce is made by pureeing herbs with a little olive oil and garlic, as in making pesto, which itself is a type of green sauce. Traditionally green sauce is served with boiled meats, and is designed to perk up chicken that was cooked for soup.
Most versions of Italian green sauce use chopped anchovies; for this quick version, I use anchovy paste, but you can omit it and the sauce will still have plenty of flavor from the capers, lemon juice, basil and garlic.
I like to use a ridged stove-top grill for this chicken, but you can also use a broiler or barbecue. If your stove-top grill is small, cook the chicken in several batches and keep the cooked ones warm, covered, in the oven.
• 1 small garlic clove, peeled
• 1/2 cup parsley sprigs
• 1 Tbsp. capers, rinsed
• 1/4 cup diced onion
• 3 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 1/2 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)
• 1 or 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
• 1 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 4 boneless chicken breast halves (skin on) (about
In food processor chop garlic, add parsley, chop finely. Add capers and onion and chop together with on/off turns. Transfer to a bowl. In a cup, stir 3 tablespoons oil into anchovy paste until well blended. Add to parsley mixture. Stir in basil, lemon juice and plenty of black pepper. Taste, and add salt and more lemon juice if needed.
Heat 1 large or 2 small ridged stove-top grills over medium-high heat. Add chicken skin side down. Grill 7 minutes, pressing firmly on chicken with slotted spatula a few times. Rub lightly with olive oil and turn over. Grill 7 more minutes or until meat has changed color throughout; cut to check.
Serve chicken with a spoonful of sauce on the side. Serve remaining sauce separately.
Makes 4 servings.
CAULIFLOWER WITH AVOCADO HERB SAUCE
This sauce is also good with baked or boiled potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, green beans and hard boiled eggs. It also makes a fine accompaniment for corn on the cob - a pleasing, more nutritious change from the usual melted butter.
• 1 ripe medium-size avocado
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 small or 1/2 large hot or semi-hot green pepper,
• 1 cup fresh coriander sprigs or parsley leaves
• 1 to 2 Tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar
• 1/2 cup water, or to taste
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• 1 large cauliflower, divided in medium florets
Halve avocado, remove pit and remove flesh. Combine in a blender with garlic, hot pepper, fresh coriander, lemon juice and 1/4 cup water and process until well blended. Gradually add more water to bring the sauce to fluid consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add cauliflower to a large saucepan of boiling salted water and boil uncovered over high heat about 6 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain well.