When we first moved to Merida, Mexico, it was still a sleepy sort of town. We were living, with all our worldly possessions, in a short-term apartment building that came furnished and was close to the hotel zone, which felt safe and familiar, and within easy walking distance to the historic centro, with its myriad squares, parks, churches, colonial homes, and museums. For weeks I walked all day, stopping for Spanish class, sipping an agua fresca near a fountain and taking the occasional taxi so I wouldn’t die of heat exhaustion in the 104 degree afternoons.
We learned our new city organically, traveling only as far as feet would carry us, until we found the downtown bus station and for less than a dollar went all the way to the beach, about thirty minutes away. After wending through narrow, cobbled streets we emerged uptown. There were wide, tree-lined avenues and shiny shopping malls and names we recognized, like Costco, Home Depot, and TGI Fridays. We felt reinvigorated to explore more of this place that kept giving. On my birthday we made a reservation at a chic white restaurant with valet and more glamazons than we had yet seen. El Argentino presents all their steak cuts uncooked on a tray for the customer’s perusal. Generous the wine was poured, red and deep and fruity. The flurry of waiters made us feel competent and elegant, in spite of our limited language skills and stunned immigrant appearance. I liked everything that was happening around me and was reminded of how much I had missed the participatory theater of going out to eat.
Everything we had there was good but the chimichurri sauce was to-die-for. The kind of stuff you start dipping fingers in when they remove the bread basket like a bunch of bread thieving bastards. First goes the tentative pinky for just a dab, but soon you’re swiping dexterous index fingers and before you know it an entire fist is in the bowl of herbs and oil and your date is looking at you like you were raised in a barn. I had licked the little ramekin clean by the time our steaks cooked medio-rojo arrived and had a ring of green around my mouth painting me both culpable and gluttonous. I wanted to recreate that condiment here at home, though I know that without ambiance, the frisson of newness and exile, it would not be quite the same. For the sake of decorum, I cooked up some shrimp to eat with the chimichurri, so as not to do shots at the dinner table.
- 1/4 cup oregano
- 1 cup packed parsley
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- red pepper flakes
- and salt
Whirl all these ingredients together in a food processor, or give them a good mashing with mortar and pestle. Allow mixture to marinate in the fridge for a few hours at least.
Serve with grilled shrimp, as I did, simply sauteed with salt and pepper for mere minutes, if you are trying to be summerish and light, though it was not my favorite, I must confess. I think chimichurri is best served the traditional way with beef, or even grilled portobello mushrooms. Or with good bread, as bruschetta, slapped on a sandwich with ham, or any way you can think of. And if you ever get to El Argentino on the Paseo de Montejo in Merida, tell them I sent you.
I made this quinoa recipe for the side dish and it was earthy and nutty and even Malcolm liked it, or so he said.