Summer has decided we need less fruit landing on the pavement in an end-of-season downpour and more blue-stained cuticles and lips. My son and I acquiesced and set out for some blackberry bushes that are a few blocks from our house. It was a surprise: my husband got home a little early, my daughter decided to stay home.
The two of us made our way along the sidewalk in our short-sleeved shirts, bypassed the wooden stairs that lead down to the trail that runs through a park in our neighborhood. The berries, bordering the backside of the park, grow on unruly plants that have been chopped back to hedge-like proportions along the edge of someone’s front lawn. Our plastic containers and shopping bag on the ground, we hovered at its edge, surprised there were still some to be had.
My son made comments about each berry he picked and about the impossibility of reaching the fat ones that were thorn-trapped and out of reach. Some grandparents and a toddler were picking in spot near us and we could hear them laughing as she stuffed them in her mouth, foregoing, Sal-style, the bucket meant for collecting them. We walked back home then, his berry-like hand in mine, filled out and soft and warmed by the sun.
There are tiny things, gifts. Like an extra two weeks to pick berries. Then there are life-changing events. I’ve been ruminating on Tara Austen Weaver’s book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian, ever since I picked up a bunch of parsley this week at the new produce store in our neighborhood. The book is a chronicle of the Seattle writer’s learned relationship with meat, which she started eating following advice from health professionals. This despite a lifetime of vegetarianism. Her memoir of the journey is authentic, funny and, reading it as a vegetarian of more than twenty years, fly-on-the-wall intriguing.
Despite artful descriptions of cuts of meat and enlightening conversations with butchers, it’s her experience with chimichurri sauce that stays with me. She eats it with flank steak, and it’s revelatory. But she questions later whether the meat was even necessary. The sauce was that good.
When I saw the parsley, a gorgeous bunch from Kirsop Farm, this scene is what came to mind. I’d never heard of chimichurri sauce, never seen it mentioned in the vegetarian cookbooks on my shelves. But if she could enjoy it on a piece of meat, why couldn’t I give it a try on the standard vegetarian option on burger menus everywhere? Portobellos are substantial, they respond to a steak knife the way some steaks do – a little give, a little juice spilling onto the plate. Why not?
I compiled ingredients, consulted half a dozen recipes and read. Chimichurri is a traditional Argentinian condiment and marinade and it’s supposed to be spicy (one recipe calls for eight cloves of garlic). But I need my food to be flavorful and something that I can finish without downing a quart of water in the process. So I skipped the suggestion to include red pepper and went easy on the vinegar. Some wilty pea shoots needed a hiding place so I snuck those in. After mixing it all together and tasting it, I wondered why chimichurri is relegated to the meat world. I’m sure it’s a divine marinade but it’s also a lot like pesto, just the thing for vegetables and grains. So much so that I ate it twice the day I made it. It’s very good in place of the pesto in this salad, with added cucumber and any extra pearl couscous you have left over.
1 bunch parsley, rinsed, to equal about 2 cups packed leaves and stems
4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½ cup olive oil
1 cup packed pea shoots or other greens
½ bunch fresh cilantro, rinsed, to equal about 1 cup packed leaves and stems
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and run until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately. If using as a marinade, refrigerate overnight.
For the pearl couscous: sauté two garlic cloves in olive oil for about 30 seconds and add ¼ teaspoon each of paprika and cumin. Stir for one minute, add 1¼ cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of pearl couscous. Stir, bring back to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
For the portobello: cook on an indoor or outdoor grill with a touch of oil and salt.
Place grilled portobello over a bed of couscous. Spread generously with chimichurri sauce and sprinkle with extra cumin and paprika.