Nourishment: Chimichurri

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As a cook and a poet, I cannot emphasize enough something called Chimichurri.

Before telling you what it is, just listen to the word. Chimichurri. It dances in your mouth. I bet you've said it in your head more times since starting to read this post than I've actually written it. If the word alone feels this good in the mouth, wait until you taste it.

Chimichurri is an Argentine sauce that is traditionally used on meats, although I also like it drizzled over rice and eggs. I like to serve it with hunks of peasant bread for dipping. It’s used in Argentina the way we use ketchup in the U.S. Except that it’s often made fresh and is far more delicious.

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, my family and I sometimes ate at an Argentine restaurant called Gaucho Grill and it was there where I discovered Chimichurri. They had a little pot of it on the table so I started eating it the moment they brought the basket of bread. I think I may have taken a spoon to that pot on a few occasions when my mother wasn’t looking. It was never enough. I was always asking for more.

Years later, living in NYC on the upper west side, I discovered Pampa, a casual Argentine place reminiscent of Gaucho Grill where they had a similar pot of Chimichurri on the table and I was still, as a grownup and a little sheepishly, asking for more.

Last summer I started making my own. There are endless variations. The basic formula is lot of olive oil, some chopped garlic (or shallots and/or onions), chopped fresh herbs (oregano, thyme and rosemary work well), dry spices like paprika or cayenne, and something acidic like lemon juice or vinegar. The crowning ingredient is an absurd amount of either cilantro or Italian parsley. What could be better? This is no ketchup.

Here’s just one of many ways to make your own Chimichurri:

Poetic Chimichurri
(adapted from Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
Makes about 1 cup

1 small jalapeno pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano, rosemary or thyme (or a combination)
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley or cilantro
Salt and pepper

Heat the jalapeno pepper over the flame of your stove or in the broiler until the skin starts to blister and develop black spots, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove the stem and seeds. Chop pepper (skin and all) and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over a medium flame until bubbling slightly, not yet smoking. Remove from heat and add rest of ingredients. You will hear a melodious sizzle.

Allow to sit, covered at room temperature, for 2 hours before using. If you do not plan to use sauce within a few hours, wait to add the parsley until you use the sauce.

Drizzle it over grilled meats just before taking them off the grill then offer more on the table for extra drizzling, bread dipping, or (gasp) spoon-plunging. If there’s any left over, use it to scramble eggs in the morning.

Let the dance party in your mouth begin. This, too, is nourishment. skgr

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.

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