Wilting herbs? Random greens? Throw them in the blender with acid and fat, and you’ll have a sauce that will make everything tasty.

By Margaret Eby
April 15, 2020
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Credit: bhofack2 / Getty Images

I have never appreciated herbs in my life as much as I have during the past month. On my infrequent trips to the local grocery store, where the dried and canned goods are often ravaged but the more delicate produce is fully stocked, I’ve taken to grabbing whatever is available. Fresh mint, cilantro, romaine, tarragon, parsley, basil—whatever is there, I take home. The little pop of freshness herbs provide on meals of beans and rice, or canned vegetables and pasta, is invaluable. But even when I follow best practices for storing herbs religiously, there comes a time when the cilantro is about 24 hours from giving up. That’s when it’s time to pull out the blender and make green sauce.

There are all kinds of variations in green sauce that you’re probably already familiar with. Chimichurri, pesto, salsa verde, green chutney, and pistou, to name just a few, are all great green sauces. Green goddess salad dressing is a green sauce, and so is zhoug, and chermoula. If you have the ingredients to make any of those recipes, then that’s wonderful. But these days of improvising based on what pantry items I have, I’ve been taking a page from our Senior Social Media Editor Meg Clark, and just riffing on whatever I have to make a green sauce, often one that doesn’t follow any strict recipe guidelines. 

The basic formula for a green sauce is tender herbs and/or greens, acid, a generous pinch of salt, and fat. The amounts are imprecise, but basically as many greens as you have leftover, stems including—a whole bunch of cilantro or tarragon works, or scraps of what you have. Add a tablespoon of acid at first, then increase as you’d like. Start with, say, a fourth of a cup of the fat, and adjust as you prefer. Throw it in the blender, pulse it, taste it, and adjust it to your liking. My last green sauce had tarragon, mint, cilantro, garlic, and a jalapeno, blended up with a good glug of white wine vinegar, a pinch of salt, and the end of a container of sour cream. The one before that had a dollop of miso, scallions, arugula, parsley, olive oil, and lemon juice. I just keep tasting it as I go and add small amounts of ingredients until it’s something I like. For my fat, I’ve used mayonnaise, creme fraiche, sour cream, crema and olive oil. I’ve thrown in some scraps of cotija, pecorino, feta or parmesan cheese, for both fat and saltiness. Sometimes I throw in some grated ginger, pitted olives, cumin, coriander, chile flakes, green chiles of various kinds, or a couple anchovies, depending on what I have around and what I’m feeling like.

I keep seasoning it with salt and pepper as I go, but sometimes I omit pepper altogether. If it’s veering too sharp or too spicy, I add more fat. If it’s not bright enough, I add more acid, either a squeeze of citrus juice or a tablespoon or two of any vinegar that’s on hand—red wine, white wine, sherry, and distilled vinegars work well here. If it’s too thick, I’ll drizzle in a few tablespoons of water. It can be chunky or smooth, spicy or mild, and any shade of green. Green sauce is very forgiving.

A food processor works if you don’t have a blender, or a mortar and pestle, if you want to be old school. You can even pull out the immersion blender and blend it directly in the container you’ll store it in, to reduce dishes—a trick Clark does. Once you have a green sauce you’re happy with, keep it in a container in the fridge. Use it as a condiment on everything: roast potatoes, fried eggs, chicken thighs, plain rice, or whatever leftovers are kicking around your fridge. I ate some yesterday on a can of drained white beans when making a more complex lunch felt too daunting. Thin it out with more oil and use it as a salad dressing, or spread it on a slice of bread for sandwiches. In an airtight container it’ll probably last about a week, though mine is always gone well before then. There are no green sauce rules—only what tastes good to you.