Sunday, September 27, 2009


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A squeeze bottle with my homemade Peruvian restaurant-style green sauce.
This sauce is positively addictive!

A reader
has started somewhat of a revolution in my house, and I think it's happening elsewhere. "Quizeen" asked about "a particular green-colored sauce served at every Peruvian restaurant I've ever been to in Southern California." She goes on: "At each of these restaurants they serve a pale green, light sauce in a squeeze bottle. I always get a Peruvian-style vegetable stir-fry and load it up thoroughly with this sauce. I've begged and pleaded with every server I've ever encountered to tell me what's in the sauce or even what it's called. They never spill the ingredients and the only name they'll give me is "aji," which just means "pepper." The sauce is pale green/white, very thin, isn't particularly spicy and might have cucumber blended in it, but that's just wild speculation. I will be eternally grateful to anyone who can shed some light on this magnificent condiment."

Now, I knew what that Peruvian stir-fry was--
Lomo Saltado, more than likely. My father was Peruvian and I have "veganized" that dish and quite a few other Peruvian dishes for my newsletter and for various workshops that I've given.
(Update: The Lomo Saltado recipe [and quite a few other Peruvian dishes as well] is in my book World Vegan Feast, under the name "Peruvian Stir-Fry".) But this green sauce was news to me and I just had to find out what it was! I have been housebound due to a bad cold for the last few days, so I have occupied myself with researching this "mystery green sauce" or "magical green sauce", as I was subsequently heard it referred to.

How could I have missed this sauce? Well, after much research, I believe that it is simply because I don't live in a place where Peruvian restaurants are common, such as SoCal and Miami. But I'm getting ahead of myself!

I have discovered that one of the possible origins of this green sauce is a sauce consisting of the leaves of the Andean herb
huacatay, vinegar, salt, peppers, and sometimes oil.

"Huacatay (Tagetes minuta), is a native Peruvian herb related to marigold and tarragon, has a pungent aroma somewhere between mint and basil. Among thousands of native herbs, huacatay has given Peruvian seasoning its unique zest from Incan to contemporary times.
... Because this herb has such a special flavor, there really is no substitute, though
a combination of mint and coriander comes closest."

From: Field Guide to Herbs & Spices, by Aliza Green

Huacatay, if you can find it, is rarely sold fresh in North American, but I understand that the leaves are available in some Latin American grocery stores, either frozen, dried, or in a
paste form in jars.

I found some recipes online for "Peruvian Aji Sauce" that were described as similar to those found in Peruvian restaurants in North America (aji means pepper, BTW). Most were variations on a theme-- lettuce, mayonnaise, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and garlic were the main ingredients. It seemed that inventive expatriate Peruvian cooks were using lettuce leaves and cilantro for the huacatay herb and jalapeño peppers instead of the fresh Peruvian yellow peppers (US online source: 
aji amarillo). But mayonnaise? Well, that was explained with a little more digging. Although many of the traditional huacatay sauce recipes I encountered were very simple mixtures of the herb with vinegar, peppers, and salt, a few of them instructed the cook to whip in oil as if you were making mayonnaise, resulting in a creamy sauce-- a-ha! And, it must be noted that Peruvians are very fond of mayonnaise-y things!

To further confuse me, though, I then encountered comments and recipes by some Peruvians stating that green sauce should contain evaporated milk (or cream) and queso fresco! This didn't sound to me like something you'd leave on restaurant tables in a squeeze bottle-- it would need to be kept refrigerated. But several posters insisted that this was the authentic green sauce. 

Hmmmmm...more digging. After some Web research and perusing (not to make a pun) the few Peruvian cookbooks that I own, I have come to the conclusion that this is a different sauce altogether-- derivatives of a sauce used on a dish called Ocopa a la Arequipena, a potato dish with a creamy pepper sauce made with evaporated milk (or cream) and cheese (queso fresco), huacatay, and often peanuts or walnuts. Here is an example of such a recipe.

So, my opinion is that the Peruvian Green Sauce served in North American restaurants as a table condiment, usually in a squeeze bottle, is a slightly Americanized version of the Huacatay Sauce that is emulsified with oil to make it creamy. Mayonnaise is used instead of oil as a shortcut,
jalapeño peppers are used when Peruvian yellow peppers (US online source: aji amarillo) cannot be found, and cilantro and lettuce are used in place of the hard-to-obtain huacatay. The result may not be absolutely authentic, but it stands on its own as a delicious condiment! (UPDATE: If you live in the USA you can order this combination aji amarillo and huacatay sauce from or from this Latino market in Miami)

I once got a lecture from a Peruvian about some of the substitute ingredients I was using in a Peruvian dish. But, in my opinion, one should not let the inability to get the EXACT ingredients deter you from making ethnic foods. Immigrants have always had to "make do" and be creative when they settle in new countries. Immigrant populations who came to Peru also had to do just that-- witness the interesting Chinese/Peruvian cuisine, which mixes Cantonese Chinese cuisine with local Peruvian flavors.
Chifa [from the Mandarin words 吃飯 "chi fan", meaning "to eat food"] is the Peruvian term for Chinese food, or for a Chinese restaurant. In the 150 years since its arrival in Peru, the Chinese Peruvian culture has revolutionized Peruvian cuisine, gaining international recognition from those who have had the opportunity to sample it while visiting Peru. Chifa reflects a fusion by Chinese Peruvians of the products that the Chinese brought with them to those that they found in Peru, and later cultivated themselves." From:

Anyway, I came up with a vegan version of this sauce that we LOVE! I would like to make it with Peruvian yellow peppers and huacatay when I can find those ingredients. My next foray to Vancouver, perhaps...? UPDATE: I did find aji amarillo paste and huacatay paste on my last trip to Vancouver, at the Killarney Market. (Sounds like an odd place to find Peruvian ingredients, but they have a GREAT selection of Latin American and international foods. Here's their interesting story! See address and contact info below.)  
I would like to try to grow some huacatay (also known as  Tagetes minuta ) one of these days. You can purchase the seeds 
online in the US here (from Oregon), and in Canada, has a few sellers-- this one sounds reasonable and free shipping, too.. It should be possible to grow aji amarillo, too. (For Canadians, this Quebec seed company carries them.)

Killarney Market
2611 East 49th
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone (604) 438-0869

We loved the green sauce on sweet potato oven-fries, and also on veggie burgers and even tomato sandwiches!  It is used as a dip for bread and yucca fries in Peruvian restaurants, too. It's pretty addictive! (But, my recipe has negligible fat and calories, so who cares?)

The Green Sauce was delicious on Camote Frito-- Sweet potato "Fries" (oven-fried!-- recipe below)

Printable Recipe

serves 6
From my book "20 Minutes to Dinner".
Sweet potatoes (and I mean the orange-fleshed kind) cook more quickly than regular potatoes, and they are delicious oven-fried. Sweet potato fries are sold by street vendors in Lima, and other Peruvian towns and cities.

PS: These are not "yams", no matter what it says in your supermarket! See about the difference here.

4-6 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/8" thick wedges, like French fries (or use a French fry cutter). Place the "fries" on two nonstick or lightly-oiled cookie sheets. Spray lightly with oil from a pump-sprayer and toss to coat.

Bake for 5-7 minutes, then turn over and bake 5-7 minutes longer, or until light golden and crispy outside and soft in the middle. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve hot.

THE PERUVIAN GREEN SAUCE, UPDATED RECIPE: (I have updated the recipe since I found a source of huacatay paste and aji amarillo in Vancouver (see above in the text for US and Canadian sources.)

NOTE: If you have the opportunity to use the fresh herb huacatay instead of the paste, or cilantro and mint, I'm afraid you're on your own in regards to how much, because I haven't been able to try it. I would assume that you would leave out all or some of the lettuce, as well as the cilantro and mint, but it will take some experimenting. Any of the recipes that were remotely like this one (i.e.: creamy) did not specify how much huacatay to use-- maddening! I would perhaps start with 1 cup of the leaves (fresh) or 1/3 cup dried. If you used dried huacatay, I am imagining that some lettuce would be a good idea, too.

Yield: @ 1 1/2 cups         (Updated Nov. 29, 2010)
In this recipe, I have given you the option of using dried herbs, which is what I did the first time I made it because I didn't have any fresh and could not justify going off-island on the ferry just for that.

1/4 head crisp curly green or romaine lettuce, torn into pieces (about 1 1/2 cups sliced)
5 medium green onions, trimmed and chopped (the white and green parts)
1 to 2 tablespoons aji amarillo paste 
OR 2 to 3 similar sized fresh or jarred whole Peruvian yellow peppers/aji amarillo (Cnd. source and American source) or yellow habañero peppers 
OR 2 large (about 4" long) fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and trimmed and chopped
Other Ingredients:
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (such as Vegenaise, Original or Reduced-Fat-- I used my homemade Eggless Low-fat Mayonnaise (this includes links to several variations), or you could use my Tofu Mayonnaise)
2 tablespoons huacatay paste (This is an American link-- in Canada, unless you live near a Latino market that carries it, or know someone who could send it to you from another location,you may have to use the option below.)
OR If you don't have huacatay paste, use 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro (or 4 teaspoons dried cilantro) AND 1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint (or 1 teaspoon dried mint)
Optional: 2 tablespoons water (use only if you use dried herbs)
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon salt (according to your taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly-ground)

To Make:
Process all of the ingredients together in a blender or food processor until the mixture is smooth. The color should be bright green. Scrape into a jar with a tight lid, or a food-safe plastic squeeze bottle used for sauces and condiments.

Serve with bread or meat subs; with chips, fries and oven-fries of all sorts; on sandwiches and tacos; etc..

Nutrition Facts (were calculated using my Eggless Low-fat Mayonnaise.)
Nutrition (per 2 T.): 18.6 calories; 34% calories from fat; 0.7g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 182.8mg sodium; 69.7mg potassium; 2.6g carbohydrates; 0.6g fiber; 0.3g sugar; 2.0g net carbs; 0.7g protein; 0.3 points.



julie hasson said...

Bryanna, this sauce looks fabulous! Thanks for doing all that research!


Niki said...

Sounds delicious! I love mint and cilantro - how could it get better than this?!

RestaurantZoom said...

Glad you are feeling better Bryanna and the magic green sauce recipe looks and sounds like one we need to try. Thanks for the recipe:-)

Charlotte said...

That was fun to read! I also think it's funny when people get all up-in-arms about authenticity. In a restaurant that boast "authentic cuisine", of course it should be, but at home we can certainly use what we've got.

spiceislandvegan said...

HI Bryanna,

Wow, what a research! I blogged about this sauce after visiting a Peruvian restaurant in Anaheim, CA, El Misti.

I did have a conversation about the green sauce with the owner and then he went back (outside) of his restaurant and came back with the fresh mint called Huacatay. He grew this mint on the back of this restaurant. This herb smells good. He uses it in his green sauce and said there is no mayonnaise in it but olive oil that is beat until creamy. He won't tell me what are all in it but there are lots of garlic in it. It's a good idea to grow Huacatay!
The restaurant uses this herb on the rice on other sauces too. It 's quite a distinct flavor.
I will try your recipe and will let you know.


Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

I would value your input, Debbie, as I do not have anything to judge it by. Makes sense that the one you tasted was made with emulsified oil. This version would be lower in calories and fat.

Debra said...

This sauce looks soooo good! I can't wait to make it when my raw food fast is over.

Jael said...

Thanks for the recipe! I was in Peru twice in spring 2009 and remember having some kind of a green sauce that I liked very much,maybe it was similar to yours...I loved Lima and went often to eat in those Chifa restaurants, great food!

Carolyn said...

Bryanna- Thanks for opening up new culinary horizons! I haven't delved into Peruvian cuisine yet, but I'm ALWAYS looking for new additions to the herb garden. Looked up Tagetes minuta (Mexican marigold) and (from which I've ordered before) also carries seeds, so I will be ordering tomorrow. Since cilantro is so persnickety in our Mid-Atlantic climate, I'm wondering if T. minuta might be a substitute here in dishes calling for cilantro...

Anonymous said...

Where in Vancouver did you find the aji Amarillo paste?

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Killarney Market
2611 East 49th
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone (604) 438-0869

test said...

We just returned from Peru and I have several ounces of the huacatay leaves. I've been reading various recipes for Peruvian green sauce that mostly have mayo or cheese in them. We, however, had a green sauce in Peru that was just oil and green which the waiters said was made with fresh huacatay. What would this sauce be called? No mayo, no cheese, just green with oil and absolutely delicious.

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Lexy Marin, here is a very simple recipe which has no cheese and gives you the option of using oil and no mayonnaise:
I would use aji amarillo instead of the jalapenos, though. I hope this helps!