Arugula Salsa Verde

Arugula Salsa Verde: for when you’re living the grilling life of meats and veggies and need to punch them up with something bright and summery. This is muy muy perfect. It’s tangy, spicy, citrusy, and packed with green things to do your body good. You won’t see me sitting down to eat 4 cups of arugula and a bunch of parsley but I will crush this salsa verde, no problem.

We’ve Arugula Salsa Verde’d (it’s a verb, right?) grilled chicken, steak, grilled cauliflower, cauliflower rice, regular rice, baked potatoes… the list could go on and on. This is a summer go-to, great on everything, everyday sauce. And, BTW, the hardest part of this recipe is hauling out the food processor. (This is the one I just got/took from my mom’s house and I love it – the BEST for making quick work of sauces, marinades, cheese-grating, etc.). I’m not even saying to cut the parsley off the stems, just throw them in. Be as lazy as you want, but do take the time to drain those capers because… salty, salty, salty.

ingredients for arugula salsa verde in a food processor, all green and fresh

OK, ready? I’ve seen all manner of ingredients for salsa verde, some with tomatoes, some with cilantro, and so on. This is what I’ve found to be the best combo for my tart-and-spicy-heat-loving taste buds. Arugula, green onions, parsley, jalapeno, garlic, lemon, capers, S & P, olive oil, and you’re done!

a bowl of arugula salsa verde on a cutting board

Drizzle, dash, and slather this business on anything you like this summer and enjoy!

P.S. If you 💗 bright and fresh green sauces, try my favorite spicy basil sauce from this Spicy Caprese Burger recipe!

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Arugula Salsa Verde

a bowl of arugula salsa verde and a spoon on a cutting board

Arugula Salsa Verde: for when you’re living the grilling life of meats and veggies and need to punch them up with something fresh, bright, and summery.

  • Author: Megan
  • Prep Time: 7 minutes
  • Total Time: 7 minutes
  • Yield: 1 3/4 C 1x
Scale

Ingredients

  • 4 C arugula
  • 1 bunch of parsley (stems, too)
  • 5 green onions, root ends removed
  • 1 jalapeno, stem removed and sliced in half
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 T capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 1/2 C olive oil

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.

A Taste of Authenticity at Vilai Thai Kitchen

Tucked into the shopping center where the Beach Road begins at milepost 2 in Kitty Hawk, Vilai Thai Kitchen has an intimate and special feeling, a little exotic even, with orchids lining the window sills and fresh flowers on each table. It’s a family owned and operated restaurant with Vilai Hammock and her son-in-law, Eric, commanding the woks, along with Yip, a friend from Thailand helping out in the kitchen occasionally. Vilai’s husband, Mel, her daughter, Malissa, and a friend named Linda welcome guests in and serve dish after dish of Thai classics, curries, noodles, and specials. With only 3 woks in the kitchen, the speed of service is impressive. In the moments it took me to tap a few notes into my phone, and to snicker at Mel cheerfully encouraging a table nearby to try the “spicy stuff” contained in a set of tiny blue and white pots he’d just delivered, Linda was already delivering plates of food I’d just ordered.

Vilai and Yip cooking over 3 large woks in the kitchen

Aside from the happy, light-hearted atmosphere, I’m especially enamored by the kitchen and the woks turning out this gorgeous food. Picturing pans the size of a skillet, with a handle, I was surprised to find 3 huge, flying-saucer-shaped pots taking up two-thirds of the clean, compact kitchen. Vilai and Yip were masterfully stirring, tossing, and showering fresh ingredients into the steaming vessels, releasing a hypnotic aroma. The food here is authentic in the style of the food Vilai grew up eating in Thailand. Her mother cooked for their family of 9 kids, often enjoying fish they farmed themselves and homegrown vegetables. Vilai laughed telling me about her parents converting her own backyard here on the beach into a wild, abundant vegetable garden with eggplant, peppers, herbs, and everything in between.

hOMEGROWN GOODNESS

Vilai has a Keffir lime tree in a pot at home that she plucks fresh limes from and harvests the leaves to stir into curries and soups at the restaurant. The leaves add a bright pop of flavor and citrusy notes that perfume her savory dishes. Having bought lemongrass from the grocery store myself but finding the taste a little muted for what should be an intense ingredient, I asked Vilai if she buys hers there, too. No, she grows it herself for use in her Tom Yum soup. You can taste the zing of lemongrass for sure but the thing I’ll be going back for is the way the underlying heat in the Tom Yum tingled on my lips, like a persistent, but gentle bee sting. It’s addictive, bright, and soothing; one of those things that makes you feel new from the inside out.

a bowl of Tom Yum soup

The soup is delicious on its own but also an excellent way to get your mind relaxed and your appetite in the right place to appreciate Vilai’s other offerings. For me, fried soft shell crabs were next. These little creatures, so dear to us Outer Bankers, were transformed into a crunchy, perfectly salty, fried situation – an absolute delight. The garlicky tempura batter puffed away from the crab, like a delicious second shell; the entire surface was a series of tiny, crackly bubbles ready to collapse under your teeth. Two sauces demanding to be swiped and sampled with your finger were drizzled over top. Vilai explained with a sly smile, “It’s yum yum sauce.” “There’s two sauces,” I said, “what’s the other one?” “Yum yum sauce,” again with a smile. Ok, I’ll respect the secrecy. The soft shell crabs sat perched on top of an herby, cooling seaweed salad, completing this plate with the most pleasing texture and contrast.

keep it clean

Vilai avoids using too much oil and salt in her cooking, coaxing enough flavor from ginger and garlic and introducing layers of seasoning with those fresh lime leaves and sharp, citrusy galangal in her curry. Here’s a little back-pocket cooking tip Vilai shared with me about flavor – when you’re making a curry, sauté the curry paste with salt and sugar for a minute before adding the coconut milk. A simple step that never occurred to me but allows for so much character and distinct pungency to come through in the food.

When I’m being smart and treating my body like I should, I agree with Vilai; none of us really need extra oil and tons of salt in our lives anyway. Vilai’s Seafood Fried Rice is welcome proof that less is more. As opposed to the heavy and rich fried rice most of us are used to, this one is light and fluffy with clean flavors, letting the crab, shrimp, and fresh veggies stand out. Vilai’s personal favorite from her menu, the Chicken with Basil, benefits from fresh Thai basil grown in her backyard and is lightly sauced. It’s rich and spicy without being cloying and is packed with crisp-tender bell peppers, zucchini, and onions and thinly sliced chicken, making for hearty forkfuls.

edible art

If you’ve dined at The Sanderling or The Lifesaving Station, where Vilai cheffed for 20 years prior to opening her restaurant 2010, and you ordered a dessert, you were witness to Vilai’s pastry artistry. The desserts at Vilai Thai Kitchen are not on the menu, they’re reserved instead for the specials board. I’m here to tell you, just stop at the Mango Sticky Rice. I’m sure all of the desserts are worth your time, really, but this Mango Sticky Rice is an absolute must. The warm rice is sweet and appropriately sticky, with a tiny hit of salt that gets you right along the edges of your tongue. Two ripe and juicy mango cheeks, skillfully carved into the shape of a leaf and brushed lightly with sweet coconut milk, are draped over top. It’s lovely and a completely satisfying end to a meal at Vilai Thai Kitchen. 

mango sticky rice on a white plate, with two magos carved into the shape of leaves on top

Vilai describes her food as delicious and simple, although it tastes beautifully complex to me. It’s clear her years of experience and finely tuned instincts have everything to do with those results. Authentically divine and warming from the inside out, Vilai Thai Kitchen is truly among the best of the best on the beach.