citrus accents distinguish the Mexican variety

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I am originally Italian; my favorite comfort foods are a simple Margherita pizza or al dente pasta with a classic marinara sauce. You could say that oregano is an important part of my cooking.

But in the over 10 years that I’ve lived in Mexico, oregano hasn’t delivered the same peppery, minty punch I’m used to. I thought it was all in my head. Come and discover that I never imagined it at all: Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) and Mediterranean or Italian oregano (Common oregano) are completely different plants, with distinctly different flavor profiles.

Mexican oregano has citrus undertones and an earthy flavor. If you open a bag of dried Mexican oregano and take a deep breath with your eyes closed, you can smell the bright lemony highlights. Which makes sense: it is from the same family as lemon verbena. (Who knew?) Its flavor is the perfect complement to bean dishes, traditional stews like pozole and a host of meat recipes. These citrus notes also balance the heat of the peppers in salsas and marinades.

Italian oregano, on the other hand, belongs to the mint family. Its flavor is milder and has a tangy bite that pairs perfectly with Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.

Of course, you can substitute one for the other, but there will be slight differences in flavor, which some of us (hum) will notice. Here in Mexico, the oregano you buy will be Mexican oregano, unless otherwise specified. I put Italian oregano on my list to bring back from my next trip to the United States.

Tacos are a delicious option for serving homemade chorizo.
Tacos are a delicious option for serving homemade chorizo.

Homemade chorizo

  • 1½ pounds. minced pork
  • 2½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. ancho pepper powder
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tbsp)
  • 1 C. dried mexican oregano
  • 1 C. ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • vs. ground clove
  • vs. ground coriander seed
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar or white vinegar
  • Optional: ¼ tsp. ground annatto (adds red color)

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well until slightly sticky. Let sit for at least 4 hours or overnight. Cook at will. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Oaxacan Chicken with Garlic and Oregano

  • 30 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup of fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • A 3-lb. chicken, cut into 10 pieces
  • 1½ cups of chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Using a food processor or molcajete, mix or crush the garlic, oregano, olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper until coarse and well mixed but not completely pureed. Rub the mixture all over the chicken; place skin side down on a baking sheet. Cook for 15 min. Remove from the oven; reduce the temperature to 375 F. Pour the chicken broth on a baking sheet, turn the chicken pieces. Bake 45 minutes longer or until chicken is cooked through.

Bright lemon, pepper and Mexican oregano complement the flavor of fresh shrimp wonderfully.
Bright lemon, pepper and Mexican oregano complement the flavor of fresh shrimp wonderfully.

Pan-fried shrimps with tomatoes, feta and oregano

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 C. salt
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • 1½ pounds. peeled shrimp
  • To serve: crushed tomatoes, crumbled feta

Preheat the grill. Place the grill near the fire. Crush the garlic with salt until it forms a paste. Add the oregano, lemon juice, olive oil and lots of pepper. Rub the paste over all the shrimp. Spread the shrimp on a cookie sheet; grill 2 to 3 minutes per side. Garnish with chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta and serve. – www.nyt.com

Chicken Pozole Verde

  • 2 pounds. boneless chicken thighs, skin removed
  • 1 lb tomatillos, peeled and washed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, seeded, thinly sliced
  • 6 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 C. coarse sea salt
  • 1 large handful of fresh cilantro
  • 1 can (28 ounces) white hominy, drained and rinsed
  • To serveg: limes, radish, jalapeños, cilantro, oregano

In a large saucepan, put the chicken, tomatillos, onion, jalapeños, broth, oregano and salt. Cook over high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer; partially cover. Cook 40 minutes until the chicken is tender in pieces. Remove the chicken and shred with a fork. Put aside.

Using a skimmer, place the cooked tomatillos, onions and jalapeños in a blender or food processor. Add the cilantro, about a cup of cooking liquid, and puree to a smooth. In a large saucepan, place the pulled chicken, mashed vegetables and hominy. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Adjust the salt if necessary. Serve with fresh lime juice, radishes, jalapenos, cilantro and oregano.

To make in the slow cooker: Place all the ingredients except the cilantro and the hominy in the slow cooker. Cover and cook for 4 hours on high heat or 6 hours on low heat. Remove the chicken and shred with a fork. Using a skimmer, remove the cooked vegetables from the broth, transfer them to a blender or food processor. Add the cilantro. Process until smooth. Add the chicken, mixed vegetables and hominy to the slow cooker. Stir, cover and cook for an additional 30 minutes.

Mexican Garlic Soup with Oregano and Lime

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 15 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 8 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 to 2 limes
  • To serve: ½ baguette, cut into cubes or slices, lime wedges

Preheat the oven to 325 F. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is tender but not colored. Remove from fire. In a bowl, toss bread with half of the garlic infused oil; Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the cubes on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes until lightly toasted and crispy.

Pour the broth into the saucepan with the rest of the oil and garlic. Simmer over medium heat. Add 1 tsp. salt and chopped oregano. Gradually add the eggs, stirring constantly. Simmer and stir until the eggs are set, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from fire; add the juice of 1 to 2 limes. Serve garnished with cubes of garlic toast and lime wedges.

Roasted tomatoes with oregano

  • 4 large ripe red tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, each cut into 4 strips
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano OR 1 tbsp. dried
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the grill to high heat. Heart tomatoes; cut in half. Place tomatoes, cut side up, in a baking dish. Place 2 garlic slices in each half; sprinkle with chopped oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill for about 5 minutes and serve.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: Anthology of American Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Instagram at @thejanetblaser.



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