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What Is Green Sauce?

By C.H. Seman
Updated May 16, 2024
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Green sauce can be any number of green-colored sauces from Italy, Germany, France, Argentina or Mexico. The European and Argentinian variants owe their green color to the large amount of herbs used in the recipe, whereas the Mexican variants are green because of the use of tomatillos and chili peppers. Green sauce is commonly used as a condiment or dipping sauce.

Italian green sauce, or salsa verde, is commonly made with parsley, capers, garlic, onion, vinegar, olive oil and anchovies. Additional ingredients, such as mustard or cubed bread, can be added to the mixture. Traditionally, the ingredients are finely chopped and mixed by hand. Several variants of Italian salsa verde exist and are widespread in Italian cuisine.

The French version of green sauce, sauce verte au pain, has its roots in the Italian version. The basic recipe is similar and the sauce is prepared in much the same way. French green sauce also may be a type of mayonnaise flavored with tarragon, parsley, sage and lemon. As with the Italian version, there are numerous varieties of the recipe.

In German cuisine, green sauce is typically prepared with a creamy, thick base of yogurt, eggs, buttermilk or sour cream and several varieties of fresh herbs. The herbs used may include borage, sorrel, cress, chervil, chives, parsley, salad burnet, dill and spinach, to name a few. German green sauce, or grüne soße, is often served alongside potatoes and meats.

Chimichurri, a kind of Argentinean green sauce, is used primarily as a marinade for grilled meats, and variations of the basic recipe can be found all over Latin America. Parsley, olive oil, garlic, chili pepper and vinegar are used for the basic recipe, although variations may contain bay leaves, cilantro, paprika or tomatoes. Tomatoes and red peppers are used for the red variation of chimichurri.

The Mexican version of green sauce, salsa verde, is made with tomatillos, green chili peppers, garlic, onion and cilantro. Unlike the European and Argentinian varieties, Mexican salsa verde is generally very spicy. This sauce is often used to add heat and flavor to foods such as tamales, grilled meats and tacos. It also can be used as a dip.

To prepare green sauce of any variety, a chef needs to consider the seasonal availability of fresh produce, though the wide range and flexibility of most recipes make it possible to substitute ingredients and experiment when necessary. Most traditional recipes call for chopping or mincing herbs by hand. If tradition is less important than speed, a food processor or blender may be used.

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Discussion Comments

By Rundocuri — On Dec 30, 2014

I love the flavor of Italian green sauce so much that I actually prefer it to tomato sauce when I make pasta.

In addition to the ingredients that the article mentions, I also like to add spices like oregano, rosemary, and thyme, and other ingredients like chopped vegetables and mushrooms to Italian green sauce. When mixed into the sauce and poured over any type of pasta, it makes a hearty, flavorful meal.

By Talentryto — On Dec 29, 2014

@heavanet- I have made the Mexican version of green sauce with green tomatoes instead of tomatillos, and I actually prefer it made that way. I think that the green tomatoes are a bit milder than tomatillos, which contrasts nicely with the peppers and spices that this recipe requires.

I think that there are two other important benefits to using green tomatoes instead of tomatillos to make green sauce. First of all, many people have a hard time finding tomatillos, especially if they live in small areas with grocery stores that don't carry a big variety of produce.

Many people also have backyard gardens where they plant tomatoes. For these individuals, green tomatoes are plentiful and very fresh, which makes great-tasting green sauce.

By Heavanet — On Dec 28, 2014

I have heard that green tomatoes can be used in place of tomatillos to make Mexican green sauce. Has anyone ever tried this variation of the sauce recipe?

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