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Green Action!

A bowl of sinister green action
Doesn't LOOK like trouble, does it?
Photo by Albert Burneko/Illustration by Chris Thompson

It’s the butt end of summer now. Soon, assuming the world isn’t quite yet too badly poisoned for it, the weather will turn cool and then chilly, and it will be Stew Time. Time for laborious, heavy, brown comfort foods, with lots of ingredients and indoor-cooking steps: preliminary meat-searing and deglazing and long simmering and so forth. But it is not Stew Time just yet. It is still too hot for all of that.

By the end of summer—by the close, that is to say, of the third straight month of wet, constricting heat outdoors—I want to cook as little as possible. (This may be inconvenient to your reasonable Saturday food-blog expectations.) I do not want to stand over a hot stove in the kitchen at all, and will only tolerate standing over a hot grill outside for just long enough to blast some attractive grate marks into whatever is on there and abscond with it back to the cool dark. I don’t even particularly want to eat hot food, except where heat is an unavoidable byproduct of the process of making it taste good. The only heat I want is the spicy kind.

As to that, it’s also, right now, just about the peak of chili pepper season. Nice. This is a good time to eat lots and lots of spicy food. It is also a good time for you to learn about Green Action.

In my family—specifically, in my generation of my family, which is to say among my equally deranged siblings and I—we have a condiment that is informally but commonly known as Green Action. As in “Are you gonna make some Green Action” or “Will you pass the Green Action.” (Sometimes it is also called “Hots,” but Hots is also the name of the little dish of fiery red chili oil on the table at dim sum, and since you can’t reasonably call that stuff “Green Action” [it’s red!], it gets right of first refusal on “Hots.”) Green Action is … well, one of Green Action’s chief virtues is its malleability: It isn’t always one specific thing, except that it is a pretty pale green, creamy, and cruelly capsaicin-hot. In my favorite incarnations, it is full-fat Greek yogurt with some chopped up herbs and aromatics, some salt and pepper, and twice as many grated or shredded or minced or food-processed hot green peppers as seems reasonable. Maybe also some citrus zest, if the situation calls for it. We’ll get to that. You can think of it like an evil cousin to tzatziki, or to halal-cart white sauce, or to the lightly embellished crema you might get on a street taco. Or a chaos-dimension doppelganger to raita, undermining its own noble cooling qualities with tongue-wrenching heat.

This is a good, versatile, fun condiment, particularly in combination with oily foods cooked on a hot grill. Let’s say that you are grilling some vaguely kebab-type stuff: skewers of meat, bell peppers, onions, maybe some eggplant, maybe some cherry tomatoes. Let’s say that you are planning on serving this stuff with maybe some warm flatbread, why not. Hell yeah. Good for you! I’m excited already. Now imagine a judicious drizzle of lovely, fragrant, creamy Green Action going across that food before it goes into your head. In this incarnation the Green Action has raw garlic and mint and dill in it, and a little bit of lemon, in addition to a monstrous double-fistful of de-stemmed green serrano peppers. Imagine it! Literally right now! Mmmmm.

Now let us pivot to imagining that you are charcoal grilling—yes, grilling!—some small whole chickens; later you will cut them into halves and everybody will get a half to pull apart with their fingers. Delicious. You always have the best ideas. Imagine tearing some juicy thigh meat off of that chicken-half and then dredging it lightly through some simultaneously cool and ferocious Green Action—this time with onion and cilantro and lime, and all those peppers—before firing it down. How you will sweat! But like gladly!

I think that by now you get the idea. We needn’t do more imagining, unless you particularly want to thrill yourself with more possible Green Action uses. I think that I have also probably given the game away, as far as the ingredients and procedures go.

You will need some plain full-fat yogurt. Greek or not. A 24-ounce tub of the stuff will make probably too much Green Action unless you are feeding six to eight absolute lunatics. You can go for the lighter stuff if you wish, but in that case I suppose I advise also going easier on the peppers, a disappointing retreat all around. (You could also go for sour cream if you just prefer sour cream, though I recommend the yogurt.)

You will need some aromatics. Here I am talking about onion and/or garlic; decide for yourself whether to go for one or the other or both. I recommend non-red onions for the simple reason that red onion in combination with green peppers will make a gross color when you whir all of this stuff together. If you are thinking right now “Well I really like red onion, so maybe I will use red peppers also,” I mean, suit yourself! But also it is my learned opinion that the wan pink of the resulting goop will not be as pretty as the soft pale green of Green Action. Also you will not be able to call it Green Action. Chop up whatever you’re using, even if you plan on food-processing it all together later on. If you are using half a tub of yogurt, then use half of a normal-sized onion, or a half-onion-sized portion of onion and garlic together. It would not kill you to zest a citrus fruit, unless you are really apocalyptically bad at using a microplane, or cannot get one without fighting a grizzly bear.

You will need some herbs. Here again I encourage you to choose them for yourself, based on how you’re likely to use your Green Action. This is not an abdication of my food-blogging duties! It is in fact a fulfillment of them, and a damn good one at that, if I do say so myself, which I do. If you’re going in, say, an eastern Mediterranean direction with your cooking, then maybe you will want mint or dill or mint and dill in your Green Action. In other applications—fish tacos? You read my mind!—maybe you will want to go for cilantro. If you cannot decide and want some Green Action applicable to a wide range of flavor profiles, maybe you will go for flat-leaf parsley. I feel that you have demonstrated a level of trustworthiness that would make it redundant or possibly insulting for me to warn you away from using rosemary or thyme or bay leaves in your Green Action. That bank-shot admonishment was for some other doofus! Some clod with no judgment. A real dingbat! Also you will need some salt and some black pepper.

And then of course you will need lots and lots of hot green peppers. I do not recommend using any pepper cultivars hotter than, say, serrano or Cheongyang, not for reasons of cowardice or whatever but because the hotter varieties—habanero and on up into the Psycho Realms—tend not to have a whole lot of actual flavor apart from melting your tongue and dissolving your innards, and it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t get some good pepper flavor into your Green Action. Especially since, if you really want your Green Action to punch hard, you can simply use lots and lots of those more reasonable kind.

(Also the freak-heat varieties tend not to be green, which we have established as Very Important. Some of them are green! But even the green ones don’t have a whole lot of flavor. This debate is over.)

A really good way to do it is to deploy a handful of jalapeños, for their perfect balance of flavor and heat, and then supplement with some serranos for more heat. Whatever you’re using, use a volume at least equivalent to that of the yogurt. Hack the peppers’ stems off but do not remove their inner flesh or seeds. You want the heat. It isn’t called Green Relaxation! It is called Green Action.

That is really all that you need. As suits your kitchen arrangement, chop all the solid stuff real small and stir it into the yogurt, or pulse it all together in a blender or food processor. Add some salt and black pepper and try a very small sample of your nascent Green Action on the lip of a spoon, so that if it is very spicy you will retain your ability to taste the next little sample as you fine-tune the settings.

Fine-tune the settings to your liking. There. That’s it. Green Action. You sorted out every other part of this process yourself; you can figure out the uses, too. Have at it.