Getting Saucy: Homegrown herbs put spring in your step—and dinner

Making simple sauces can take the winter doldrums out of any dish and brighten up your plate and palate.

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Sure, it still feels like winter, and while most people will cautiously wait until March 20 to officially declare that spring has arrived, I am getting an early start in getting my spring fever on. As Chicagoans, we all know that winter can hang on and on and on -- and yet, I have a remedy that will help put you in the mood now.

This year, I am growing my own herbs. I am an enthusiastic, but terrible, gardener. Yet, growing herbs is so easy that anyone can do it, pretty much anywhere. The reward for your indoor farming comes in the form of almost instant cheer when those first shoots start to appear in just a few days. There is something magical about bright green baby plants poking up. But the bigger reward comes from actually using the herbs. 

Making simple sauces can take the winter doldrums out of any dish and brighten up your plate and palate. These green sauces take mere minutes and are raw! Which means you whip them up quickly and without fuss.

Bonus: All of these flavorful sauces can be served for Passover! Skip the faux Passover mustard and get in the green with healthy and homemade sauces. 

Another bonus: Getting an early start on planting herbs indoors means that once spring finally has sprung, you can move the herbs outdoors, where they'll grow bigger. 

Read on for some simple 5-minute green sauces to herald spring's arrival: 

Gremolata

This raw, minced garlic combines with parsley and citrus to create a vibrant garnish for meats, vegetables, fish, and really anything. I add toasted and chopped nuts to my gremolata for a textural interest.

  • 3 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest and 2 teaspoons of juice from 1 small orange
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons toasted and chopped hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, or almonds
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

1. Whisk garlic, lemon juice and zest, orange juice and zest, parsley, hazelnuts, olive oil, salt, and pepper until a paste is formed.

2. Serve at room temperature. Store leftover gremolata, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Pesto

The Italian classic is so simple to make and tastes so amazing when fresh that I freak out when I see jars of the stuff in stores. WHY OH WHY?! Whip this up and allow the sauce to melt all over roasted vegetables, pasta, and tender grains. Go ahead and schmear it on matzah during Passover for an added kick of flavor.

  • 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine-nuts or favorite nut or pumpkin seeds (I use toasted walnuts)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (not from a jar or can, please!)

1.Process basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, and salt in a blender or food processor until a thick paste forms. Stir in cheese.

2.Serve tossed with hot pasta, cooked grains, or drizzled over veggies.

3.Store leftover pesto covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for 1 month.

Zhoug

  • A fiery, complex, and very herbaceous sauce that can spooned over shakshuka, roasted vegetables, burgers, salads, and more. I like to use a mix of peppers to control the heat and vary the flavor.
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted caraway seeds (optional, but I love this flavor)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1. Process peppers, parsley, cilantro, cumin, coriander, caraway, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender until a thick sauce is formed.

2. Drizzle zhoug over roasted vegetables or on roasted chicken for a blast of flavor. Store leftover zhoug, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze for 2 months.

Chermoula

Zhoug's less spicy cousin from Morocco is a favorite of mine. The spices and mint make a complex flavored sauce that changes simple dishes into intricate affairs. Serve this sauce over roasted fish (I'm looking at you, halibut and wild salmon), over roasted vegetables, steaks, and grilled lettuces

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of crushed red chili flakes
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1. Process cumin, coriander, caraway, parsley, cilantro, mint, garlic, zest and juice, crushed chili flakes, olive oil, paprika, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender until a sauce has formed.

2. Spoon over hot vegetables, fried eggs, roasted fish, grilled steak, and more.

3. Store leftover chermoula, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for 2 months.

Laura Frankel is a kosher chef and author.Previously, she was the Culinary Director for Jamie Geller's Test Kitchen and Kosher Network International. Frankel is the author of two Jewish cookbooks, with a third forthcoming. She is the founder of Shallots Restaurant in Chicago, Skokie, and New York, and served as Executive Chef for Wolfgang Puck.




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