Quick Herb Sauce

  • By Jess Dang
  • August 27, 2012

Quick Herb Sauce | Cook Smarts by Jess Dang

One of the most common complaints I hear from my clients is, “I cook the same thing every week, and I’m bored!” Instead of giving them a list of 50 new ingredients they need to purchase (because then we’d be giving them a new problem – filling their  pantries with items used once and then left to collect dust), I introduce small changes. I encourage them to keep on cooking those same things, because chances are they’ve probably gotten pretty good at cooking those dishes, but I help them find simple ways to jazz up those dishes. It’s similar to what a good stylist do – take your current wardrobe and show you how to accessorize outfits so they feel different and special. One way I do this is by teaching them to make sauces, and one of my go-to’s with clients and for my own cooking is a quick herb sauce that’s made in a large food processor (I use this 14 cup Cuisinart).

Aside from herbs, there are few other requirements. You’ll want a few items to give the sauce flavor; kosher salt, garlic, shallots, capers, anchovies, or sundried tomatoes are all items I reach for. You’ll want something to give it body and help the ingredients bind: good olive oil, tomatoes / tomatillos, nuts, or seeds are all great options. Lastly, you’ll want some acid to provide contrast and bring out all the other flavors: a squeeze of lemon or lime, a drizzle of red wine, sherry, or champagne vinegar make a huge difference. Tomatoes / tomatillos also contain acid and can provide a similar effect but not quite with the same potency of citrus and vinegars. Try your sauce before and after adding something acidic, and you’ll finally understand what chefs mean when they say, “Acids brighten up a dish.”

A quick herb sauce can come together in just 5 minutes but can stretch you well over five different meals (check out this meal plan, which uses pesto all week long). Herb sauces can be spooned over proteins such as fish, chicken, or tofu. You could also chop these proteins up, spoon them into a warm tortilla, and use the herb sauce as a salsa. Or you can slice the proteins open and enclose the herb sauce inside. It can also just as easily be used as a pasta sauce – tossed with a hot bowl of orzo and cannelini beans and served with a generous helping of freshly grated parmesan cheese. For a quick solo dinner, turn a few eggs into an omelet and fill it with the herb sauce and whatever else you can find in your fridge. While we’re on the subject of eggs, this sauce can also easily turn an ordinary fried or poached egg into Dr. Seuss’ famous green eggs [and ham]. Use it as a spread and make a cafe-worthy sandwich with it. To serve at a larger party, set a bowl of your sauce next to an assortment of grilled vegetables, and let your guests go to town. So how’s that for turning your boring cooking routine into something special?

Feel free to share what ingredients would be in your signature herb sauce and creative ways you would use this sauce to jazz up your current cooking routine. The recipe and how-to video we’re sharing below combines cilantro, parsley, tomatillos* (pronounced to-ma-ti-yos), garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and kosher salt, but don’t feel tied to our ingredients. Let what’s fresh at the store or what might be spoiling soon in your fridge guide you.

*Tomatillos are the equivalent of a green tomato in Mexican cooking and when used raw, adds acid like a citrus.

Quick Herb Sauce | Dear Cook Smarts
Prep time
5 mins
Cook time
5 mins
Total time
10 mins
Serves: 1 cup
  • Fresh herbs – 2 bunches (cilantro and parsley used here)
  • Green onions – 1 bunch
  • Tomatillos – 2
  • Garlic – 2 cloves
  • Lemon – ½
  • Kosher salt – to taste
  • Olive oil – ¼ cup
  • Large food processor
  1. Herbs – Wash in cold water and leave to dry in a colander
  2. Green onions – Chop off the bottom of the white part
  3. Tomatillos – Remove husks and rinse. The skin might be a bit sticky. This is normal
  4. Garlic – Peel skin
  5. Lemon – Slice in half
  1. Place herbs, green onions, tomatillos, garlic cloves, and 1 tsp. of kosher salt into food processor. Pulse or process until the ingredients are chopped up and form a rough paste
  2. Continue to process but now drizzle olive oil through funnel of food processor until it becomes a thick sauce. The consistency is really up to you. If you want it to be thinner, use more olive oil or add another tomatillo or two
  3. Now open the lid of the food processor and add juice of half a lemon. Mix with a spatula and taste. Add more lemon juice and / or kosher salt if the sauce feels a bit bland still. The salt will add flavor and the acid from the lemon juice helps to add contrast, therefore bringing out all the other flavors
  4. Decide how to use it! If you don’t think you’ll be able to use all of it within a week, freeze part of it
Serve / Substitutes / Supplements
  1. Some of the most common herbs in my herb sauce repertoire are: cilantro, basil, mint, and parsley
  2. Use it as a base for a salad vinaigrette by spooning 1 tbs. of it into a bowl and whisking enough olive oil into it so it lightly coats the back of a spoon
  3. No herbs? Try spinach. It’ll be the healthiest sauce you’ll ever make

For more ways to jazz up your current routine, try a hand-chopped pesto or caramelized onions.

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