Make: Peruvian Cilantro Sauce

a dip that improves everything

Say you want to serve something distinctive and special, but you don’t want to spend the entire damn day cooking. A very basic meal, but a little touched-up and polished, maybe you’re having good friends over, but not people you feel the need to impress. It’s a situation where you want to enjoy yourself but busting your hump all day in preparation isn’t in the cards: a grilled piece of meat or fish, some potatoes, a platter of raw vegetables to start things off over cocktails. Nothing too complicated, but still delicious.

Peruvian Cilantro Sauce is the thing to make, friends. It tastes green and fresh, bright and surprising, the kind of flavor that’s great on a hot summer day. This dip transforms the ordinary into something special and delightful.

I discovered this Peruvian Cilantro Sauce a few years ago through the NYT Cooking section. I was focused on making the chicken in the recipe, with the sauce as an add-on. Turned out that my family found the chicken merely meh. The sauce was the star. It should be the only part of the meal that takes a bit of preparation, but has the benefit of lasting a long time in your refrigerator, so you can pull it out again for other meals and snacks.

If cilantro tastes like soap to you or if someone in your family can’t tolerate jalapenos, don’t stress. You can substitute with parsley (I like Italian flat-leaf) or a milder chile pepper, like an Anaheim. I also have never had fresh oregano on hand; dried is fine. You can find the aji amarillo in specialty Mexican or Latinx groceries. But I’ve also left it out in a pinch and didn’t notice a big difference.

If you are like us, you’ll increase the minced garlic threefold. I’d also suggest draining the feta as much as possible if you buy it fresh. This ensures that the sauce is thick, perfect for dipping, especially for Crispy Smashed Potatoes, a recipe my dear friend Holly introduced us to a while back. These potatoes work as a crowd-pleasing appetizer or part of a weeknight meal. I’ve made them with red new potatoes or those little sacks of potatoes you see everywhere now.

I recently made this sauce over the Easter weekend. We ate it outside on a beautiful warm day that we rarely experience on this holiday in Minnesota. The sauce went down delightfully with grilled steak, and I realized that I didn’t miss the typical Easter ham fare at all. This was probably due to the fact that the weather was warm and sunny. Easter in Minnesota often involves sleet or rain or arctic winds, so the impulse to stuff oneself with au gratin potatoes and slices of honey ham feels right. This Easter was dreamy and unusual, a prelude to summer meals: the sun lowering in the evening, the smell of smoke and beer and tangy herbs everywhere, walking your friends to their car to say goodbye in the twilight, and holding hands with your beloved as you head back to turn off the grill and clear away the last empty glasses from the table.

PERUVIAN CILANTRO SAUCE

1 cup cilantro leaves
3 to 4 jalapeños, seeded and diced
¼ cup/1 ounce crumbled feta cheese
1 garlic clove, chopped (I mince this, and use way more than 1 clove)
1 ½ tablespoons lime juice, more to taste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or basil (dried is fine)
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ tablespoon aji amarillo or other chile paste (you can skip this, it’ll be fine)
½ teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (I’d use less, because I like the sauce thicker)
Lime wedges, for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a blender, blend cilantro, jalapeños, feta, garlic, lime juice, oregano, salt, mustard, aji amarillo paste, honey, and cumin until smooth.

  2. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in oil until mixture is emulsified.

  3.  Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt or lime juice or both.


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