Last week I started with commenting on the essential herbs of Southwestern Cooking and began with cumin--an ancient herb with a great deal of curative properties. Mexican Oregano along with cumin is also a popular complement for chile laden dishes and is somewhat controversial. Having the name of oregano, one would expect it to be from the same family as other oreganos, however it is not. Italian or Mediterranean oregano is a member of the huge and diverse mint family. Mexican oregano is actually a first cousin of lemon verbena and is milder and somewhat citrus like in its aroma.
Mexican oregano and cumin are often paired as the most popular herbs in Southwestern or chile cookery. Most, including myself feel it is best to leave it out if you do not have Mexican oregano when you are cooking Southwestern and chile dishes. The Mediterranean oregano is much stronger and does not complement , instead it rather competes, altering the expected flavor.
Mexican oregano looks a great deal like Cuban oregano, yet has a stronger flavor than the Cuban variety which is often grown as a houseplant. Mexican oregano is indigenous to the Southwest and Mexico and grows wild in the foothills. Lately it has been in short supply and the price reflects that in a higher price. Nonetheless, I am offering ours on a 25% discount through next Sunday the 16th. As with all herbs, storing them in glass jars in the refrigerator assures the freshest flavor.
Since last week's Red and Green Chile class sold out, we are offering the same class next Thursday, the 20th. We will soon be offering some more classes, so keep "tuned".
Here's a couple of recipes that call for Mexican Oregano--
I often serve this right from the grill while guests are gathering. I find it very popular with all who sample it. You can decrease the olive oil even more than I did from my original recipe, but the flavor suffers in direct proportion.
Yield: 6-8 servings
1 cup warm water (110 to 115F or 45C)
1 package or 1 scant Tablepoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (see Note)
¾ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon good-quality olive oil, preferably Spanish
¼ cup good-quality olive oil, preferably Spanish
2 large red onions, halved lengthwise then very thinly sliced crosswise
4 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano
½ cup queso blanco or feta cheese (optional), crumbled
- Add warm water to bowl of heavy-duty mixer or other large bowl, then add yeast and sugar and stir until dissolved. Let stand until foamy. Add half of the flour, salt and olive oil. Using a dough hook or by hand, beat until smooth. Beat in enough remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out dough on a lightly floured board and knead until dough is smooth and gluten is well formed, about 8 minutes.
- Divide dough in half and form each half into a thin round, making a slight edge around sides. Poke dough with your fingers to make indentations. Prepare topping.
- Preheat a covered grill to medium or 375F (190C). Evenly divide topping between dough rounds. Cover grill rack with foil to slow baking. Place bread on foil. Cover grill and bake about 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Sprinkle with cheese and serve warm in squares or wedges.
- Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until transparent and almost soft, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except cheese to onion mixture.
Note: Carefully spoon flour when measuring; do not scoop cup into flour container, or you will have too much flour. Level off with a spatula.
Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Truffle Oil
This is one of my all-time favorite risottos. The richness of butternut squash, which just happens to be the most nutritious of all squash is foiled with the delightful edge of the truffle oil, making it is amazingly delicious.
Yield: 6 servings
Time: 1 1/4 hours
3 to 3 ½ pound butternut squash
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divded
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 cups chicken broth
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (9 oz)
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin, divided
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano or mixed cheeses
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 cups arugula or baby spinach, coarsely chopped
Few drops Truffle oil
1. To roast squash--preheat oven to 450°F. Cut squash in two, just at the point where the seed cavity starts or it starts to become bulbous. Cut each half in half, then remove seeds and cut into ¾ inch wide slices. Toss with olive oil, then sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Place slices, skin side down, in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven until tender and golden, about 30 minutes.
2. Start risotto after squash is in the oven. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer, covered. In a 5 quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, then add the onion and cook until clear, add the rice, garlic and ½ teaspoon cumin—cooking and stirring just to coat.
3. Then add the hot broth ½ cup at a time. After the first ½ cup, stirring constantly, add the second ½ cup when the liquid has been absorbed. Continue stirring and adding broth until rice is creamy looking, but still firm—about 20 minutes total cooking time. You may have some broth remaining. Stir in the arugula or baby spinach.