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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.

Mexican oregano adds authentic flavor to many bean dishes, soups and stews, and pairs well with beef, chorizo, onions, squash, cumin, garlic, lime and tomato.

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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Spicy Sunday skirt steak
Mole colorado
White chili
Frijoles de la olla
Vegetarian Cuban canapes

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

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Stunning dressing.

Alas, no Mexican Oregano in these parts. Does it taste anything like epazote? (Not that I would know how that tastes either, but I can imagine, right?!)

This sounds delicious, and Penzey's is only a mouse click away! You reminded me that I need to place an order!

all new to me, even unto the chipotles in a dressing. sounds very good

Amazing yes that looks amazing must try that one. Thanks Lydia.

Joao and I are planning a trip to the USA next year, my dear friend, and I can tell I'll have to buy an extra suitcase to bring everything I want from there! :)

I wonder why it's called Mexican "oregano" when it isn't part of the same family or at all like Mediterranean oregano. I didn't know such a thing existed so thanks for sharing!

The dressing sounds so good not to mention unique. I have a bag of Mexican oregano sitting in my cupboard which I am going to transfer to the freezer... 6 mths huh? gotta get cracking on that dressing.

Ahhh! Very, very interesting. Thanks, Lydia.


I wonder if I can find mexican oregano here at all... The salad dressing sounds sooo good!

Lucy, epazote and Mexican oregano share some characteristics: strong flavor, affinity for beans, a kind of licorice undertone. The "oregano" has a bit more of a lemon flavor. I don't eat either one straight up -- always cooked in something like beans or stew.

Deborah, I love Penzeys, and they keep expanding their range of specialty herbs and spices, things that I used to have to hunt for in ethnic groceries -- like Mexican oregano.

Lobster, this is a very flavorful dressing. I think you would like it.

MyKitchen, you are welcome!

Patricia, how exciting -- I hope your travels bring you to my part of the country. I will fill your suitcases with all sorts of goodies.

Hillary, it's called Mexican oregano because (a) it's native to Mexico, and (b) it kind of looks like the other oregano, and (c) it goes with lots of different kinds of food, like the other oregano. Not that any of those reasons are really good ones!

Callipygia, this is a wonderful, spicy dressing. I like it on grilled fish, too.

Paz, thank you so much.

Anh, I don't know how easy it is to find outside North America. Please let me know if you do find it.

When I first got some Mexican oregano and started using it, I was surprised how different it was from the Greek or Turkish oregano, but now I see it's not the same plant at all. I didn't know that! See how much I learn from you. (And thanks for including my recipe.)

Jeff and I have been a serious chiptole kick lately, so you know I'm making this recipe. I love the sound of it!

I bought mexican oregano after buying Savoring Mexico cookbook by Williams Sonoma. I used the herb in a meatball soup...and it's presence was very noticeable...takes a while to get used to.

I love my Penzeys Mexican oregano! Once you taste it, you can't go back to the inferior stuff. And what a great dressing recipe!

Kalyn, I was surprised, too. It's really an entirely different herb, with a misleading name.

Susan, this is so delicious with grilled chicken or salmon, but I'm thinking that grilled radicchio would work with it, too.

Nabeela, it is a strong herb, and for me it works best in stews and beans -- something hearty.

Sher, I'm thinking there's a pasta dish that would like this dressing....

I could see this in a meaty pasta salad.... or even a potato and beans salad... Hmmm, getting hungry...

That's really interesting about this kind of oregano. I did have some for a while, and it had a good flavour too it. LOL about the twigs and leaves in the pantry =)

You always teach me something new. I would have just assumed that the chef had a thing about oregano from Mexico, not that it was a different product!

This sounds delish! I am headed to the store to get the ingredients now. :) Ta ta!

Katie, both of those ideas sound terrific. Mexican oregano really goes well with hearty foods like meat and potatoes.

Kelly-Jane, no kidding, I have stuff out on my lawn that looks just like this oregano -- but it doesn't taste as good!

TW, thanks. Two totally different plants, both called oregano -- so confusing.

Julie, happy cooking!

That's interesting. I did try Mexican oregano a long time ago and concluded it wasn't much different to its namesake, but then, what I had, didn't look much like you picture either. Hmmm.

Neil, I never realized there were so many different types of oregano -- Greek, Russian, French, etc. -- and then this one, that isn't true oregano at all.

Having just been given one of Rick Bayless's books, I'm getting acquainted with all these "new" herbs and spices that he requires. I was planning on buying some Mexican oregano first, just to test the waters... :)

I love Penzeys also. Their Greek oregano is really good too. I am lucky enough that we a have Penzeys store only 20 minutes away from where we live. We can buy the really small containers of spices so they are always fresh.

Luisa, I think I have all of Rick Bayless' books, and I do love them. You'll have fun working with the varied and authentic spices he recommends. Lots of good sources for Latino ingredients near you, too.

Andy, you are so lucky to live close to a Penzeys. The nearest to me is 1-1/2 hours away, and I rarely go to the store. I generally stick to mail order, which is reliable and fast. Being able to buy their smallest size of spices is a great way to test and find the ones you like, without spending a lot of money or wasting spices that go bad on the shelf.

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