Biting into a Mexican dish can occasionally cause a mouthful of herb and spice confusion. Taste the cumin? So much cumin. Is this Indian food? Middle Eastern? Italian oregano in my pozole? Oh, Lord. One oregano is clearly not like the other. Let's try to clarify Mexican herbs and spices and end the mouth confusion.
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First, get the measuring spoon out of the cumin jar and start counting seeds or take the tiniest pinch of that probably stale ground cumin. Traditional Mexican recipes measure cumin by the seed, counting each one, and large stew recipes call for nothing more than 10 little cumin seeds. Hold that pungent almost burning cumin, and let the Mexican oregano come through. With a slightly more floral and citrusy aroma than its Mediterranean cousin, this is the herb Mexican cuisine is founded upon. It's a flavor that softens sometimes metallic chile sauces, brightens up the sweetness of roasted tomatoes to take them into savory complexity.
But Mexican oregano doesn't work solo and is rounded off with marjoram, thyme, and coriander, each adding its own style of herbal citrus flavor. Blend these cool mint -family herbs with the heat and warmth of cumin and you'll get a flavor explosion of the Mexican variety.
Mexican spice blend
3 tablespoons Mexican oregano 2 teaspoons marjoram 2 teaspoons dry thyme 2 teaspoons coriander seeds ½ teaspoon whole cumin
Toast the coriander and cumin in a dry saute pan over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, moving constantly so seeds toast evenly. Allow to cool completely and grind until fine.
Pick out any excessive twigs and flower buds from the oregano, as this would make the flavor overly floral. Mix all the herbs together until well incorporated. Store in a cool, dark place in an airtight container.
Use liberally on grilled items, roast chicken, pork tenderloin, or any protein that needs an extra kick.
As proprietor of Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food, Minerva Orduno Rincon makes everything from mole poblano to goat milk caramel to spiced (not spicy) cocoa. She's taking a summer break from farmers markets, but she'll be back in the fall.