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Southwestern Herb Pairings: Cilantro and Mexican Oregano

Posted on: November 15th, 2010 by Amy Martin No Comments

Phoenix is smack dab in the Southwest, so any respectable kitchen herb garden needs to have some herbs native to the Southwest. I’ve already talked about Mediterranean oregano which is from the mint family; now we need to discuss Mexican oregano.

Mexican oregano is actually more closely related tolemon verbena than to mint, and it originates from Mexico, naturally. It is also called Mexican wild sage or Tex-Mex oregano and is characterized by a more earthy, musky flavor. The dried oregano has an abundance of tiny flower buds mixed in as opposed to regular oregano. It can be found in its dried form most everywhere, but if you can’t find it you can order it online from Penzeys or buy it at their Scottsdale location at 3310 N. Hayden Rd. Phone number is 480-990-7709. It adds authentic flavor and you will find it in beans, pozole, etc. If you are truly a fan of Southwestern cooking, it’s an essential herb.

The other incentive is that Mexican oregano packs more antioxidant power than berries, fruits and vegetables according to a recent Agricultural Research Service study. In fact, Mexican oregano scored the highest in antioxidant activity of the three types.

Now for cilantro. It seems that people either love it or hate it. According to Harold McGeeNew York Times, April 14, 2010, the Oxford Companion to Food notes that the word “coriander” (cilantro) is believed to derive from the word koris, the Greek word for “bedbug”, that the cilantro aroma “has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes” and that there are even a “I Hate Cilantro” Facebook page and blog.

Part of the problem for people who hate cilantro is that they find the flavor to be “soapy”, which is what I thought when I first tried it. Again according to Harold McGee, there is a reason for that. The cilantro smell is created by substances called aldehydes which are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects. Aren’t you glad you know this?

So, what to do about the smell and taste? A Japanese study published in January suggested that crushing the cilantro leaves gives the leaf enzymes a chance to convert the aldehydes into other substances with no smell. Personally, I would just chop them.

Spanish conquistadores actually introduced the herb to Mexico and Peru, where it was paired with chilis. It has become ubiquitous in Southwestern and Mexican cooking and is very popular in the Western part of the U.S.

Here’s a quick recipe for cilantro slaw from Sunset’s Mexican Cookbook.

  • 5-6 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup firmly packed cilantro leaves, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh Mexican lime juice
  • 1 tbs each water and honey
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • salt and pepper

Mix all together in a non-metal bowl and let sit to let the flavors blend. Enjoy!

Written by Susan Cypert, Phoenix Farmers Market Examiner at Examiner.com

View Susan’s article on Examiner.com by following this link or view more of Susan’s articles by visiting her writer’s page.

About the Author - Amy Martin

Author of Her Plate, Amy's love of food, cooking and all things culinary keeps her endlessly plotting what her next meal will be. Her pastimes include creating in (i.e. demolishing) her own kitchen and baking far more sweets than her tiny family could ever eat.

More Posts by  | Website  | Follow Amy Martin on Twitter

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