When I first moved to Houston in 2000, a new shared birthday friend invited me out to lunch at Churrascos, the signature restaurant of a popular local South American chain. I remember two things from the lunch.
One was the surprise birthday dessert my birthday twin had excitedly pre-ordered before our lunch. It turned out to be a South American specialty called Tres Leches Cake; a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk and topped with meringue. I didn’t know my lunchmate well enough to tell her I just couldn’t eat anything called three milk cake. Yogurt, fresh cheeses, custard, and whipped cream are all my friends. I just can’t do fresh milk; as in when I was a kid it came back up my nose when I tried in vain to drink it. I politely moved the famous milky cake around on the plate and feigned fullness hoping my new friend didn’t notice.
The second memory from that lunch was how much I enjoyed my first taste of freshly fried plantain chips served with a chunky parsley, garlic, vinegar and oil sauce called chimichurri. Churrascos reputation was built on their char-grilled tenderloin marinated and slathered in this sauce. Their bottled chimichurri sauce was even sold at local supermarkets.
Over time, I honed my own chimichurri sauce recipe to reflect my flavor preferences. One tip I learned is to hand chop or pulse the ingredients lightly with a food processor to create a textured sauce so the taste of the various ingredients can be appreciated. Chimichurri sauce is a forgiving and endlessly versatile recipe that can easily be adjusted to individual taste. I’ve included flavor options in the recipe to inspire variations.
Chimichurri sauce is traditionally used for marinating meat. I’m not much of a meat eater, so I tend to use it as a grilled vegetable, pasta, fish or chicken sauce. More often than not, I use it as a quick dip or a bracing vinaigrette.
Every season I find a good reason to make chimichurri sauce. The most anticipated stop on my annual outing to Ellijay has become Dave the Garlic Guy’s little metal shed stand on route 52, minutes from all the apple picking madness. My stash of elephant garlic from him seems to become my yearly fall chimichurri inspiration.
I’ve now lived in Atlanta for over a decade where South replaces Latin America as a culinary motivator, yet chimichurri sauce still stays close to my heart and reminds me of the warmth and kindness I experienced in Houston. The once novel combination of freshly fried plantains and garlicky chimichurri sauce is now one of my signature party appetizers.
Garlicky Chimichurri Sauce Plus Variations
1 1/3 cup parsley leaves, finely minced
½ cup cilantro leaves, finely minced
2 Tbs finely grated carrot
1 Tbs diced shallot
2 Tbs finely minced garlic
4 Tbs red wine vinegar
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly grated black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp red pepper flakes
- Mix all ingredients until combined. Alternatively, pulse all ingredients briefly in food processor until combined.
- Adjust ingredients to taste.
*Omit cilantro – add ¼ cup finely minced oregano or 1 Tbs dried oregano
*Omit shallot – add diced red onion or scallion
*Omit red wine vinegar – add champagne, sherry or apple cider vinegar
*Omit lime juice
*Omit lime juice – add lemon juice
*Omit red pepper flakes – add ½ tsp Aleppo pepper, ½ tsp hot smoked paprika, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper or 1 tsp minced jalapeno pepper