Add a pop of tangy, bright flavor to zesty foods with this easy Cilantro Lime Sauce. You can have this crema-inspired sauce on the table in an hour, with just 10 minutes of prep!
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I love a drizzle of smooth, creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce served with Latin-inspired recipes. It’s always a welcome contrast to cool bolder, spicier flavors. The perfect finishing touch!
I originally called this recipe “Cilantro-Lime Crema.” It’s inspired by the Lime Crema I’ve had in Mexican restaurants and with fish tacos at some of my favorite coastal spots. But, if we’re being technical, this recipe isn’t really crema.
What is Mexican Crema?
Mexican Crema is a tangy, cultured cream. It’s a similar concept to American sour cream and French creme fraiche, but thinner in texture than both. Crema is also milder than sour cream, and sometimes a bit sweeter and/or saltier.
You can make Mexican Crema at home by culturing warm buttermilk and heavy cream at room temperature (or sour cream and heavy cream), but this process takes up to 24 hours. It isn’t a recipe you can have “on demand”!
This is a “cheater’s” crema, so to speak. It has a nice tang, and creamy, pourable texture that you can easily drizzle over all of your favorite zesty foods.
What You’ll Need to Make Cilantro Lime Sauce
I start this sauce with a mixture of sour cream and mayonnaise. The two combine to make a creamy, lightly-tangy base.
To flavor the sauce, you’ll need fresh cilantro leaves, lime zest, and freshly-squeezed lime juice. I’ve indicated a range on the lime juice quantity so you can adjust the sauce to your personal tartness preferences.
Also, I find that some brands of mayonnaise and sour cream can be more tart than others. It’s best to start with the smaller quantity of lime juice and add adjust, as needed, based on on the brands you’re using.
I like to add a bit of garlic to the sauce, but this is totally optional if you prefer to just have the flavors of cilantro and lime. Since fresh garlic can have a sharp bite, I mince it and let it sit in the lime juice for about 10 minutes before making the sauce.
This softens the garlic’s pungency and adds a mellower flavor to the sauce that doesn’t overpower the cilantro or lime. Finish the sauce by seasoning, to taste, with kosher salt. I usually use about 1/2 teaspoonful, though I rarely measure it!
Want to make it spicy? Try blending in a little chipotle in adobo sauce for a kick!
Making and Storing the Sauce
I like to make this recipe in my food processor, using the mini chopper bowl and the pulse button. It makes quick work of chopping the cilantro leaves and processing all of the ingredients into a creamy sauce.
You can also use a blender. Depending on the size of the canister and power of the motor, you might need a blender with a tamper to pull all of the cilantro leaves into the blade.
If you don’t want to use an appliance to make your Cilantro-Lime Sauce, you can also easily mix it by hand. Just chop the cilantro finely and whisk all of the ingredients together to combine.
After you’ve made the sauce, it’s important to refrigerate it (covered) for at least an hour. This will give the flavors a chance to meld, and will also thicken the sauce a bit.
Tip: Want to make Cilantro-Lime Sauce ahead? You can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before serving.
What to Serve with Cilantro Lime Sauce
As I mentioned earlier, this sauce is everything with fish tacos. I also use it to top my Tortilla Crusted Tilapia for a bright finish against the crunchy, breaded fish fillets.
If you’re making chicken or steak fajitas, Cilantro-Lime sauce is a great condiment to serve on the side. We also love it with tamales, and drizzled over marinated grilled chicken breasts and shrimp kabobs during the summer.
I’ve even used the leftovers as a dip for warm tortilla chips. Warm and lime are a match made in heaven!
Cilantro Lime Sauce
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves , loosely packed
- 2 teaspoons lime zest
- 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (depending on how tart you like your sauce)
- 1 clove garlic , peeled and minced (optional)
- kosher salt , to taste
- Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are minced and the sauce is creamy. Season to taste with salt.
- Transfer sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least and hour for the flavors to meld. The sauce will thicken slightly as it chills. Store for up to 3 days, covered, in the refrigerator.