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Mexican oregano (Recipe: Green chile turkey meatballs)

Turkey green chile meatballs

Every November, a guy named Mark, with three helpers backpacking scary gas-powered leaf blowers, arrives to relocate the leaves that fall from our trees and blanket the lawn.

The leaves get chopped up a bit and piled off to the edge of the woods, where, over time, they'll turn into lovely leaf mold that we mix in with our compost or use as mulch in the herb garden.

On my spice rack, I keep a little jar of chopped up leaves that look very much like the ones outside in the woods. They look the same, but they're oh-so-different.

The leaves in the jar are Mexican oregano.

Not from my yard. Not even from my herb garden. And not really oregano, either.

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 or Greek oregano I grow in my herb garden (this year I grew Italian oregano, too). The Mexican variety is musky and sweet,  with a similar lemon-licorice aroma to its Mediterranean namesake.

Mexican oregano

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 or Mexgrocer. The Spice House sells powdered Mexican oregano, which incorporates more easily into many dishes.

Two of my favorite cookbook authors, Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless, use Mexican oregano all the time. That's authentic enough for me.

Turkey green chile meatball

Green chile turkey meatballs

Yes, I'm on a turkey meatball kick. This version would be great in a Mexican meatball sub, wrapped in a tortilla or pita with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, hot peppers and cheese, or over Spanish rice. Makes 13 giant meatballs. Serves 4 (three meatballs per person plus one for the cook).


1-1/4 lb ground turkey (I use 93% fat-free)
1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use Fage 0% fat)
1 large egg
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
1 4-oz can of fire-roasted green chiles, drained
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper


Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat (silicone liner), aluminum foil or parchment paper, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. With your hands, mix until well combined, with the breadcrumbs, chiles and yogurt evenly distributed throughout. Do not overmix.

Using an ice cream scoop with a release (called a "disher", if you buy at a restaurant supply store), form 12-13 large meatballs, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 18 minutes, until just slightly brown. Taste one to be sure they're done; the yogurt will keep the meatballs fairly moist.

You can make these ahead, and freeze them.

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Curried turkey meatballs
Tex-Mex turkey lasagne
Turkey-green-chile chili
Turkey escarole soup
Turkey meatballs with pasta
Greektown turkey meatballs
Turkey, cranberry and basil meatballs

Want more meatball recipes? Get Meatballs, my e-book packed with amazing, crowd-pleasing, family-friendly low-fat turkey meatball recipes with bold around-the-world flavors, plus full-color photos and a few fun videos. With the FREE Kindle Reading App, great meatballs will always be just one click away on any computer, tablet or smart phone. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I purchased Greek oregano when we went shopping at Dean & Deluca. You never told me there were another version I should try! The great thing about the Perfect Pantry is I keep learning about new ingredients ... and then I buy them!

I like Mexican oregano a lot. Personally I think it's entirely different than the Greek or Turkish (or even Italian) oregano!

Yaay for meatballs too!

so I recently had surgery and have been spending about 99.9% of my recovery time looking for new blogs to read -- so happy i found yours! love love love it!

p.s. i'm not creepy, just quite drugged up on pain meds, so my apologies if I'm not making much sense ;)

I need to find queso and now Mexican oregano...I am still on the look out!!!!

I have gotten Mexican Oregano at the farmer's market in NYC in season.. but I always forget about it in winter. Thanks for the reminder, I think I'll whip up some of those meatballs....yogurt is brilliant.

I remember the first time I smelled Mexican oregano and cumin toasting together in a skillet... *that* is the smell of Mexican cuisine.

I didn't realize that Mexican oregano was so different. Thanks so much!

who knew about Mexican "oregano"!
I am faint with hunger!!

I love, love, love Mexican oregano. It's really the only kind I use. It's so inexpensive in the Mexican markets and the flavor is so remarkable.

Oh, these look fabulous!

So quick, so easy, so delicious. I made them last night and quickly gobbled (no pun) four of them. Thanks for another great recipe.

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