Almost everyone loves the idea of vegetables at summer cookouts, but do you really love those too-often-wan, flavor-challenged chunks of squash, eggplant, and bell peppers that end up languishing on your plate? In a recent Bite podcast interview, the vegetable-cookery master Abra Berens, author of the acclaimed new cookbook Ruffage, diagnosed one easily fixable part of the problem. “It seems to me that most grilled meats have a sauce on them, but we don’t treat vegetables with the same respect,” she told my colleague Maddie Oatman. Listen to the full episode here:
Berens offers one ingenious solution: depositing veggies straight from the grill into a highly flavored sauce called an escabeche, where they soak up flavor as they cool (details here). Her analysis of the grilled-veggie problem made me think of my favorite grilled-food accompaniment—one that’s fast, dead simple, and can be ready to go before you ignite the charcoal. It’s a pungent Italian herb sauce called salsa verde (not to be confused with the equally fantastic, tomatillo-centered Mexican salsa of the same name). In this one, parsley plays the starring role, delivering its bright, peppery flavor. It should make up at least half the herbs in the sauce; basil, mint, chives, and oregano are good supplements.
Salsa verde is classically served with meats and fish (it goes great with butterflied grilled whole chicken). But its fresh, zesty bite will make anything it touches sing—including even the most perfunctorily grilled vegetables. You could toss fresh-off-the-grill veggies in at, a la Berens; or serve it as a condiment.
In the version below, I use anchovies, which boost the umami quotient. Vegans and (misguided) anchovy haters can replace them with a tablespoon of drained capers (feel free to use both, but keep a light hand with added salt). Whatever you do, please don’t diss your veggies this Memorial Day.
(Makes about 1.5 cups)
2 cups fresh herb leaves—at least half (or all) flat-leaf parsley, plus basil, chives, mint, and/or oregano
3-4 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
A generous pinch of red chili flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (a little more if necessary to achieve a sauce)
1.5 teaspoons red-wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice (vinegar is the classic choice; lemon brings more brightness)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Mince the herbs, garlic, and anchovies as finely as you can, put them into a bowl, and stir in the rest of the ingredients. I sometimes go to that trouble, but usually resort to a food processor or blender, which delivers almost as great a result in a fraction of the time. For that method, add the first four ingredients and pulse several times, scraping down the side of the container between pulses, until you have a paste. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until, whizzing until you have a sauce, pausing to scrape the sides as necessary. You can pulse in the lemon juice or vinegar at this time; but to ensure that your sauce maintains its vibrant green color when it’s time to eat, scrape it into a serving bowl now, and stir in the acid at the last minute. When that’s done, give it a generous grind of pepper, and add salt as needed.