Mexican oregano (Recipe: smoky chipotle-balsamic salad dressing)
Twigs and leaves.
At this time of year, just a few days past peak foliage season in New England, I'm surrounded by twigs and leaves, shed by the maple, oak, pine, cherry, sassafras and birch trees on our land.
When I pulled this bag of Mexican oregano out of the freezer last week, I realized I've got twigs and leaves in The Perfect Pantry, too.
Foliage it might be, but oregano it is not. Mexican oregano, also called Mexican wild sage or Tex-Mex oregano, actually is a member of the lemon verbena family, not related to the more familiar Mediterranean oregano, stronger and sweeter but with a similar lemon-licorice aroma. I first sought out this herb when I started reading Diana Kennedy's and Rick Bayless' cookbooks; their recipes, both traditional and contemporary, often called for Mexican oregano, and I knew nothing about it.
Native to the American Southwest and Mexico, where I've seen the fresh herb for sale in street markets all around the country, Mexican oregano is found in dried form in most other parts of the world. It will keep in a tightly sealed jar at room temperature, or in the freezer, for six months or more. If you don't have a Latino market near you, order online from Penzeys, Mexgrocer or Gourmet Sleuth.
Smoky chipotle-balsamic salad dressing
Dress up any sturdy salad -- romaine lettuce, steak, grilled veggies or chicken -- with this richly flavored dressing, adapted very slightly from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. Makes 1-1/4 cups.
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (this is where you use the vinegar from Trader Joe's, not your oldest, best balsamic)
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo
1 tsp adobo sauce (from the can)
1 tsp Mexican oregano, crushed lightly in a mortar
Sea salt, to taste
Combine the oil, vinegar, chipotles, adobo sauce, oregano and one teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Taste and season with additional salt if necessary; the dressing should be highly seasoned. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid; store in the refrigerator, and shake the jar immediately before use.