Having lots of pots of herbs growing on our little balcony has allowed me to develop another brand new obsession. Salsa verde. I’m telling you people, this stuff is magical.
Imagine someone walking out to a lushly growing herb garden and snipping a bountiful spray of fresh herbs from each patch. Then, grinding them all together into an emerald green paste, with some garlic, capers, and anchovies because, you know, why not?!
The result is a massive wave that breaks over your taste buds in a spray of woodsy, grassy, briny, garlicky flavor. I’ve been racking my brain, and I don’t think I can think of anything else I’ve had in quite a while that packs so much beautifully blended and balanced flavor into even a tiny bite.
I discovered salsa verde when making a riff off of the summer squash gratin from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. My mother and I cooked it up while I was at home, with a few tweaks and the addition of a hefty amount of extremely good Italian sausage. It was seriously delicious (though it had too much bread-crumb action sprinkled throughout for my taste).
But, what I liked best was the amazing sauce of oregano, parsley, mint, anchovies and capers that we spooned on top. Sure, it was mixed in with the gratin as well, but I couldn’t help myself from adding more and more and more to my portion, in a cascading river of green, the same color as softly growing moss on a forest floor.
Boy was that stuff good. And I soon found myself thinking about how good it would be drizzled over fish, or other vegetables, or grilled meats. Mmmm, in my mind I could taste the brightness of the flavor mingling suggestively with the smokey charred flavors from the grill.
So, when we got cubed beef sirloin in our meat share this month, I had a plan. A kebab plan!
This is a bit of an aside, but can I just say that kebabs (or is it kabobs?) are slightly confusing. Because, here we call meat and/or vegetables threaded on a skewer a kebab, but in many other places a kebab is a full-blown wrap with meats and vegetables and sauce, like a gyro. And then, there is this restaurant across the river from us that is called The Kebab Factory, but it’s an Indian restaurant and it sells neither version of kebabs, as far as I’ve been able to discern. Who knows…
Anyhow, I decided I would make marinated beef kebabs and accompany them with salsa verde. I wanted the kebabs to be tender and juicy and doused with deep, spicy flavors (for some reason the description that comes to mind is mahogany flavors) that could stand on their own but in this context would also play a foil to the salsa verde. My answer – as it is to many a question – was harissa. Blended with some soy sauce, maple syrup, garlic, and thyme to make a sweet-salty-spicy marinade.
We also grilled some thick rings of red onion until they were soft and smokey and sweet. They were amazing with the succulent flavor-packed meat and sauce. The meal had all the thick heat and fresh alive verdancy of a jungle night. This type of meal, plus a glass of crisp white wine, is seriously just what a table on the patio or porch is for.
And I have a feeling this obsession will definitely be here for a while.
Marinated Beef Kebabs with Salsa Verde (serves 4)
- 1 and 3/4 lb. beef sirloin cut into approximately 1-inch cubes
- 3 Tbs. soy sauce
- 1 Tbs. maple syrup (preferably grade B)
- 1 Tbs. harissa (Middle Eastern spice paste – you can substitute a blend of 1 tsp. each ground coriander and caraway, 1/4-1/2 tsp. ground red pepper, a couple crushed garlic cloves and a drizzle of olive oil)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 1 Tbs. olive oil, plus a bit more for brushing
- 1 large red onion, cut into thick round slices
- bamboo skewers, soaked in water (or metal kebab skewers)
- salsa verde (see below)
- In a shallow dish, whisk together the soy sauce, maple syrup, harissa, garlic clove, thyme and 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the beef cubes, and turn to coat. Marinate at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or several hours in the refrigerator.
- When ready to grill, brush the onion slices with a little olive oil on each side and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
- Remove the beef from the marinade (if desired, save the marinade and boil it in a saucepan for 8 or so minutes to make an additional, very tasty, sauce.) Thread the beef onto the skewers, about 4 pieces of meat per skewer.
- On a medium-hot grill, grill the onions for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely charred and soft. And, grill the kebabs for about 2 1/2 minutes per side, for medium-rare.
- Transfer to a platter and serve accompanied by salsa verde, and the cooked down marinade if desired.
- Accompany with a green salad, and either couscous or soft flatbread (pitas) if desired. And a nice chilled fruity white wine, for sipping.
Salsa verde (adapted from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques)
- 1 tsp. fresh oregano leaves
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 large clove of garlic, smashed
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 1 Tbs. capers (mine were in brine, if you have salt-packed capers, give them a rinse)
- 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup (or a little less) olive oil
- In a food processor (or with a mortar and pestle if you’re being authentic), chop together the herbs with the garlic and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
- Add in the anchovies, and lemon juice, and another splash of olive oil and blend to a paste.
- Crush the capers with the flat of the knife and just barely chop these in, with a final drizzle of olive oil until you have a thick, chunky paste that is just a beautiful green. Add ground black pepper to taste, if desired.
- Serve with the grilled beef kabobs. Become obsessed.