Come springtime, I'm ready to throw just about anything on the grill. I'm done with steaming pots of soup and roasted winter veggies from the oven. I'm ready to head outside and fire up the grill glass of wine in hand to savor the aromas of searing food and enjoy the weather.
Hence, my quandary. I tend to get into a grilling rut. It's either a Mexican-inspired lime-juice-and-garlic marinade or an Asian-inspired soy, ginger and garlic marinade. Both delicious, to be sure, but both in need of some good company to round out my repertoire.
Enter chimichurri sauce, an Argentine darling and a staple with grilled meats. With its widespread grasslands — or pampas — Argentina has embraced beef as a mainstay of its diet for centuries. In the 19th century, beef consumption in Argentina has been estimated at a whopping 396 pounds per person. The present-day number is more like 140 pounds per person, compared with U.S. per capita beef consumption of about 95 pounds per year.
Argentines know their grilled meat and how to make it tasty.
Numerous folktales seek to explain the origin and name of chimichurri (chim-ee-CHOOR-ee). One legend says that in the mid-19th century, British businessman Jimmy Curry arrived in Argentina interested in importing beef back to England. In an attempt to impress him, the locals prepared a feast of grilled meats. Curry was mesmerized by the smell of the cooking meat and asked what a proper condiment might be. When the locals replied that the meat was served with only a bit of salt, Curry prepared the sauce as a gesture of goodwill, and it came to bear a tongue-twisted version of his name.
Another legend attributes the sauce's origins to one Jimmy McCurry, an Irish soldier sympathetic to the fight for Argentine independence in the 19th century. There are other stories, most of them variations on words that can be mispronounced to sound a little bit like "chimichurri."
Whatever its etymological origins, the basic recipe contains olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried oregano, red pepper flakes and loads of freshly chopped parsley and garlic. The result is a zesty, lusty combination with a bite that stimulates an instantaneous addiction akin to the perfect Mexican salsa. In other words, that perfect pairing of spice and acidity.
Here's where creativity comes in. The sauce is great in its original form. But, like any traditional food, variations are as commonplace as cooks in the kitchen. Different versions add finely chopped onion, tomato or a generous spoonful of pimentón (Spanish smoky paprika). Others substitute lemon juice for vinegar, or shallots for garlic.
I learned to make the chimichurri and grilled sausages described below from an Argentine classmate with whom I have long lost touch. I'd nearly forgotten about the recipe until recently. Since then, I've been fiddling with the sauce in a variety of dishes.
Though the sauce is delicious as a marinade and accompaniment to grilled meats and fish, it can pull double duty with vegetables and grains. I have found it especially useful to take advantage of the season's bounty from my weekly farm basket. Starting in the spring, it is a perfect foil for the strong flavors of greens such as mustard, chard, broccoli rabe or collards. I lightly sauté thinly sliced greens, toss in a handful of dried cherries or craisins and drizzle the dish with the zesty chimichurri. Or I serve the sautéed greens Italian style with dried currants and toasted pine nuts.
As spring turns to summer, a grilled eggplant salad (recipe below) layered with heaps of chopped parsley will be sure to please. Substitute a chiffonade of fresh basil when available in abundance. Use chimichurri to dress a barley and vegetable salad that can adapt to the seasons. If barley isn't your thing, use equal amounts of quinoa, cous-cous, bulghur or rice.
So start the grilling season with a new twist from south of the border. Way south.
Basic Chimichurri Sauce
6 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. minced garlic (about 8 cloves)
1 bay leaf, broken in half
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, including stems
In a wide-mouthed glass jar or in a bowl, stir together vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaf, salt, red pepper flakes, oregano and black pepper. Whisk in oil until combined, then whisk in parsley.
Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature. Remove bay leaf before serving. Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups.
— Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
4 mild Italian sausages
1 loaf French bread, sliced in 4 portions and then sliced in half lengthwise
2 red bell peppers, sliced in half and seeded
2 green bell peppers, sliced in half and seeded
1 large onion, preferably 1015 or other sweet onion, peeled and sliced in 1/2-inch rounds
1 small eggplant, sliced lengthwise, 1/2-inch thick
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise, 1/2-inch thick
1 recipe chimichurri sauce
Heat grill to medium-high heat. Divide the chimichurri sauce into two equal portions. Set aside one portion to serve at the table.
Lightly brush the chimichurri sauce on the vegetables as you evenly place them on the grill. Place the sausages on the grill. Turn the vegetables as they begin to lightly char on one side.
After 5 minutes, remove the sausages from the grill and butterfly them lengthwise. Grill vegetables and sausage until cooked through. Brush more sauce onto the vegetables as needed.
During the last minute of grilling, toast the bread on the grill to warm and slightly char it.
Remove everything to a large platter. Let each guest assemble his or her own creation by spooning some of the reserved chimichurri sauce onto the grilled bread and layering a butterflied sausage and grilled veggies. Spoon additional reserved chimichurri over the top.
— Andrea Abel
Barley-Vegetable Chimichurri Salad
The beauty of this salad is its flexibility to take advantage of the freshest seasonal vegetables.
1 cup pearled barley (If you don't like barley, substitute 3 cups cooked quinoa, couscous or other grain.)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 pint grill-roasted cherry tomatoes (instructions below)
3 cups finely diced seasonal vegetables (cucumber, sugar snap peas, chard, kohlrabi, green beans, radishes, bell pepper, spinach or zucchini)
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley, basil or a mixture of fresh herbs
1/2 cup chimichurri marinade
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare barley according to package directions. Drain off any remaining cooking liquid. Cool and toss with olive oil. While barley is cooking, prepare grill-roasted cherry tomatoes. Cool. In a large bowl, mix together barley, grill-roasted cherry tomatoes and their juices, diced seasonal vegetables, chopped parsley or other herbs, chimichurri and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Can be served immediately, but flavors will meld better if allowed to sit for a few hours.
Serves four to six.
Grill-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Fold a piece of aluminum foil in half and bend up the edges to create a rimmed pan. Rinse and pat dry cherry tomatoes. Place on the aluminum foil and drizzle with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt or kosher salt.
lace the pan on the grill and grill for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes start to release their juices. Cool to room temperature.
Grilled Fish with Chimichurri
1 1/2 lbs. firm, white-fleshed fish fillets, skin-on (grouper, halibut, mahi-mahi, red snapper)
1/4 cup chimichurri marinade
Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Make a double-thick tray out of aluminum foil for grilling the fish. Brush the tray lightly with olive oil.
Rinse and pat dry the fillets, pulling out any remaining bones with needle-nose pliers. Place the fish on the foil and pour on chimichurri marinade, spreading it to all surfaces of the fish. Grill for 10 minutes per inch of thickness or until the center is opaque and flesh easily flakes.
4 medium eggplants, about 2 lbs, sliced in 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup roughly chopped parsley or basil
1 cup chimichurri sauce
Arrange eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to drain for 30 minutes. Then, rinse with cool water and pat dry.
Heat grill to medium-high heat.
Brush one side of eggplant slices with chimichurri sauce and place on grill. Brush top side with chimichurri before turning. Brush with more chimichurri sauce as needed. Remove eggplant from the grill when tender and lightly charred.
Spoon 1/4 cup chimichurri sauce into the bottom of a non-reactive 9-inch-by-11-inch dish. Tightly arrange eggplant slices in the bottom of the dish. Spoon about a teaspoon of the chimichurri sauce onto each slice. Cover with 1/3 of the chopped parsley or basil.
Repeat by adding another layer of eggplant, spooning chimichurri sauce and sprinkling parsley or basil until there are three layers. Drizzle any remaining chimichurri over the top.
Update: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect amount for eggplant in the Eggpland Salad recipe. The correct amount is 4 medium eggplants.