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Fragrant chimichurri enlivens summer meats, salads, leftovers

Grab a mortar and pestle and "pound out" a marvelous addition to grilled foods.

At first, on these warm early summer evenings, grilling is charmed. Any kind of meat - heck, even the vegetables - leaving the barbecue taste heavenly and long-lost.

But the day will soon come when the initial thrill of putting meat to metal will wear off, and we will begin to look around for a little grilling inspiration.

Initially, I would say it's best to marinate or to dry rub whatever you'll be grilling, but there are days when you (and I) just don't have the time. On such days I will take a lesson from the Argentinians - arguably, the world's masters of grilling and all-things-barbecue - and like them, keep it simple in the beginning and then throw on a sauce.

Whether they grill on the "parilla," (conventionally) or "en asado," (with the meat strung up on metal armatures propped around an enormous bonfire) they don't marinate much. They train their focus on the grilling itself and don't boggle down in debates about this spice mix or that flavor paste.

Of course, the world's best beef (some say it comes from Argentina) salted and cooked, tastes pretty good. This method allows the best flavors in the meat to come to the forefront - and just before you think it sounds boring, consider the sauce they serve on the side.

Chimichurri is one of the most famous sauces in South America. It resembles an Italian salsa verde, or mixed herb sauce, with a bit more vinegar kick. Green as fresh grass and even more fragrant, chimichurri enlivens everything it touches. I treat it improvisationally, using it as a way to use as many fresh spring sprouts from the herb garden as I can. (Though if you're buying herbs from the store and don't feel like spending 15 dollars on a sauce, limit it to parsley and oregano).

I've made the best ones in my mortar and pestle, where the pounding action forces some sort of amazing communion between the garlic, the herbs and the olive oil, but seriously passable versions can be made very quickly in a food processor or - gracious - by hand. (If you're attempting this old-school, chop the herbs finely, until your cutting board turns green.)

Between the meat, the metal, the lively bite of green sauce and the nip of garlic, you'll know that the flush of summer has arrived. And once made, chimichurri can be dribbled on just about anything, although it's fabulous on the grilled meats - the more char the better. And I often turn the leftovers into a meat salad the next day; the chimichurri works really well as a salad dressing.


2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained

Three-eighths teaspoon salt

20 turns black pepper

One-half packed cup parsley leaves

One-half packed cup oregano

One-fourth packed cup cilantro

4 teaspoons red wine vinegar

One-eighth teaspoon red pepper flakes (more to taste)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons water

Into a large marble or granite mortar put the garlic cloves, capers, salt and pepper. Pound until smooth. Add the parsley leaves and pound until crushed. Add the oregano and cilantro and pound until both herbs are pureed finely.

(You can also make this in a food processor.

Simply combine the above ingredients and pulse together until combined and almost smooth. Remove from the bowl before stirring in the remaining ingredients. )

Add the red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes and olive oil and mix until combined. Add the water and stir to combine. Transfer sauce to a dish for serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days. Makes two-thirds cup.

Charred Ribeye Salad

with Chimichurri Dressing

2 ribeye steaks (approximately 12 ounces each)

(You can also use leftover medium- or medium-rare steaks)

4 stalks celery, preferably from the light-green heart

8 ounces cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half

10 ounces mixed greens, washed and spun dry

salt and pepper to taste

canola oil

Slice the celery stalks thinly on the bias. Prepare the greens and tomatoes.

Bring the ribeyes to room temperature before grilling.

Prepare a grill or grill pan and preheat it over medium-high heat. Season the steaks with ample salt and pepper and add to the grill. Grill about 6 minutes per side, turning about four times, until the steak feels medium-rare when poked and measures 125 degrees on a thermometer. Rest for at least five minutes before slicing thinly.

Toss the greens, tomatoes and celery with enough of the chimichurri to lightly coat. Divide the salads among the plates and top each with half of a thinly sliced steak. Spoon a little more chimichurri on the steak and around the plate and serve. Four servings.