Once upon a time, my childhood friend, Betsy, came to cook with me while I was visiting my parents – and changed my life.
She brought the ingredients for and taught me how to make a concoction so simple, yet so amazing and versatile that my oldest child re-named it “Magic Green Sauce of Infinite Happiness.” Betsy called it Italian Salsa Verde, Green Sauce, not to be confused with more commonly known Mexican Salsa Verde, which is completely different.
At the time Margalit, my oldest, was attending college. Living in their first apartment, without benefit of a school meal plan, if Margalit wanted to eat, they had to learn how to cook – simply, quickly and on a budget. Armed with a big jar of Magic Green, Margalit began turning out healthy meals of chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, and veggies.
I returned home, not with a jar, but with the recipe. Magic Green became a staple ingredient that I keep in my fridge – always. I even built an entire class around it, using the delectable herb mixture in the whole menu, except dessert.
So, what is this magical potion?
Quite simply, it’s a combination of fresh herbs, combined with an assortment of flavor bombs and olive oil. It ends up as a loose paste topped with a thick layer of flavored oil. It keeps in the refrigerator for months as long as you keep topping it off with fresh oil.
I’m not gonna lie. It takes some time to do this right; this is one of those recipes that’s time consuming, but easy. Set aside a couple of hours; the result is totally worthwhile.
Make sure your knife is good and sharp; this job requires a lot of chopping. If you are less confident in your knife skills, watch a few videos online – I recommend anything by Jacques Pepin – he’s my hero.
Select and Prepare the Herbs – The basic recipe calls for parsley (or cilantro or both), basil, chives, oregano, and thyme. Feel free to add other herbs that you love. Think about rosemary, marjoram, tarragon, dill, sage, or mint. Or subtract anything that you don’t love – I use parsley because I’m one of those people who can’t stand cilantro.
Wash the herbs thoroughly; they often have residual dirt trapped between the leaves and of course, you want to remove any small bugs. Fill your clean sink or a large bowl with cold water. Holding the herbs by their stems, swish them around vigorously. The larger leaves of parsley, cilantro, and basil carry more dirt than the smaller leaves. Change the water as it gets dirty.
Start with another fresh bowl of water, remove the leaves, and drop them into the bowl. It’s easier to chop them if you keep the various herbs separated, so you’re working with similar sized leaves. Thinner, softer stems from parsley and even some from basil can stay, but they must be chopped finely. Again, swish them around, then let the water sit for a few minutes to allow the remaining dirt to drop to the bottom of the bowl.
Carefully lift the leaves out of the water and dry them thoroughly. The herbs must be absolutely dry to ensure the mixture stays fresh. If you have a salad spinner, start with that, but finish by layering them in paper or tea towels. Press down, then remove the layers. Let the leaves air dry, while you prepare the other ingredients. When it’s time to chop, gather the leaves together into a bunch and chop. Then, hold your knife parallel to your body with one hand on the handle and the other hand resting gently on top of the knife. Use a rocking motion to chop the herbs until they’re super small and evenly sized.
Prepare the Flavor Bombs – Each herb has its own flavor; together they create a light freshness. What makes Magic Green so — well, magical — is the addition of what I like to call flavor bombs — garlic, shallot, capers, anchovies or olives (or both), lemon, hot pepper flakes, black pepper and salt. The combination of garlic and onion, in the form of shallot, is a familiar pairing that’s classic for good reason. Capers add a briny, tart saltiness.
Anchovies and olives bring umami to the mixture. We’ve all heard about the four taste zones on the tongue – sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Umami is a fifth taste, characterized by a rich, almost creamy mouth feel, like what you get from eating a good steak. But meat is not the only source. Non-animal sources of umami include mushrooms, tomato paste, some cheeses, and soy sauce in addition to anchovies and olives. In Magic Green you can punch up the umami by adding a handful of grated Parmesan cheese, but I like to keep it parve. If you observe the kashrut tradition of not mixing fish and meat, leave out the anchovies, but make sure you use good kalamata olives.
Lemon zest and juice add brightness. Hot pepper flakes bring a certain something to the mixture without adding noticeable heat. Black pepper brings another kind of heat. And of course, salt brings it all together.
All the ingredients should be chopped very fine, so the mixture is uniform throughout.
Make it Saucy – The recipe calls for an entire bottle (750 ml) of olive oil. Because it is such a large component, please use a great extra virgin olive oil that lends its own flavor and richness. It would be a shame to do all the chopping work and then use a flavorless or poor quality oil.
Put all the ingredients in a large bowl; then add the oil. Stir the mixture to combine thoroughly; then spoon into clean glass jars with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate. In the fridge the solids will settle to the bottom and the oil will solidify, forming a seal to keep the solids fresh.
How to Use – The beauty of Magic Green is its versatility. Use it as a marinade, to sauté, to baste meat in the oven, or as a base for salad dressing. Rub it under the skin of a whole chicken. Toss it with vegetables before roasting. Pour into a shallow dish for a bread dip. Mix with mayonnaise for a sandwich spread. Margalit even uses it to make scrambled eggs. Having this simple, go-to flavor bomb in your fridge can make cooking every day delicious and easy.
Sometimes you’ll want to dig through the oil to get mostly the solids. Other times you’ll just scoop out some of the oil from the top. To use the whole mixture, take the jar out of the fridge; let it come to room temperature, so the oil re-liquefies and stir. As you use it and the oil level drops, add more olive oil to the top to maintain the seal.
Parsley or Cilantro – 2 bunches
Basil – 3 bunches
Chives – 2
Oregano - 2
Thyme - 2
+ other herbs as you like
Garlic – 8 to 10 cloves
Shallot – 1 large
Capers – ½ Cup
Anchovy – ½ small can
Kalamata Olives, pitted – 8 oz
Lemon – Zest & Juice from 2
Red Pepper Flakes – 1 tsp
Black Pepper – ½ TBSP
Salt – ½ TBSP
Really Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 750 ml bottle
1. Make sure herbs are completely clean & dry.
2. Chop everything as small as possible.
3. Mix in large bowl; add the whole bottle of oil.
4. Store in fridge.
5. Add more oil over the top as needed.
Can keep for 2-3 months, if you don’t use it all first.
If you have questions about food, email Gayle at email@example.com.