Most home cooks, if we’re honest with ourselves, are looking for a silver-bullet approach to cooking. For my mother, in the 1970s, that silver bullet was sealed in a package of Old El Paso Taco Seasoning Mix. Every week we’d beg her for taco night, which in central Massachusetts lived firmly in the territory of “not understanding Mexican cuisine”: beef, sautéed with onions and no chiles, all of it doused with the contents of the magic packet, then tucked into tooth-breakingly hard taco shells.
Salsa wasn’t really a thing we had in the house. Cilantro wasn’t an herb I met until college. But now, as an adult, I can see that those packets paved the path to salvation for Mom. She was wrangling three kids while working a mix of odd jobs, aiming to still get dinner on the table by 6. Old El Paso could compensate for a number of sins, including the fact that the “healthy vegetable side” was the crisp Boston lettuce she’d chop, frantically, and pour into the shells.
It was a 10-minute dinner, and I don’t judge. Not by a mile. I live above a pizza place in Brooklyn, and most days that I can’t wrangle a home-cooked meal end in a happy slice. But recently I’ve discovered a shortcut right in the Old El Paso vein. It’s called Green Goddess Dressing, a thing that—until I made it—I thought was hippie-ish, and probably entailed blitzing kale in with a mess of other good-for-you things.
Untrue. Green goddess dressing is perhaps the most flexible of kitchen players, one able to swallow up all manner of leftover bits and bobs from the fridge, and something I wish I’d discovered 20 years ago. It’s a marinade. It’s a dressing. It’s sauce. It’s salsa. (It’s a bird! It’s a plane!) And it can accommodate whichever soft fresh herbs you have. Really. Read that again. If you have cilantro, great. Parsley, love it. Basil, gorgeous. If you don’t have the lime the following recipe calls for, use a lemon.
It goes like this: Blitz the ingredients together in a high-powered blender. Set aside a portion for sauce. Another, spiked with hot sauce like Tabasco, for salsa. Use the bulk of it for a chicken or pork marinade. Use that salsa that night, on leftover sautéed sausages, extra pork, or leftover beef tucked into soft corn taco shells with avocado, raw onion, and cilantro. Start marinating a big pack of chicken for tomorrow. The next day, shake off the dressing and roast the bejesus out of that chicken. Serve it with more of the reserved dressing. (Just be sure not to re-use the marinade on food you serve, which isn’t safe.)
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Got extra dressing you haven’t used in a marinade? Use it on kale, and massage it into the leaves. Maybe plop pulled pieces of the new fresh batch of chicken on it, for chicken salad.
The prep time for this glorious, Swiss army knife of concoctions? Five minutes.
As long as you’ve got a high-powered blender, you’ve got this. And remember to save even two tablespoons of the stuff, because that’s what standing between you and having salad dressing two nights from now, when you’re fretting that there’s nothing to eat.
Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from Melissa Clark and The New York Times
Makes a cup and a half to two cups
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1½ cups plain yogurt or buttermilk (plus more, to taste)
1 cup packed basil, cilantro, tarragon, or parsley leaves
¼ cup packed chives (optional)
2 anchovy fillets (optional) or fish sauce, to taste
1 scallion, white and green parts
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime or ½ lemon
2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Puree all ingredients in a high-powered blender until very smooth. Adjust for salt, pepper, citrus, and texture. Add more buttermilk or yogurt, if desired. Use for marinade, salad dressing, or sauces.