Lemon verbena and mexican oregano

Other Names: Lemon verbena: Cedron or hierbaluisa (Spanish); lemon-scented verbena; limonete (Portuguese); lipia limonit or luisa (Hebrew); louïza or verbena (Greek); remonbabena (Japanese); verveine citronelle or verveine odorante (French); zitronenverbene (German). Mexican oregano: Lipia; Mexican wild sage; Puerto Rican oregano; redbrush; scented lippia; té de pais (Spanish; also used for lemongrass); Tex-Mex oregano.

General Description: Lemon verbena (Lippia citriodora), native to South America, has long, narrow, rough-textured, apple-green leaves with an intense, clear, lemony floral fragrance. One hundred years ago, lemon verbena was a common ornamental in European gardens; it is just now being revived as a culinary herb by creative chefs who use it to steam lobster, poach salmon, and flavor veal tenderloin. The leaves are best used fresh, though they may be dried. Because its bright lemon taste emphasizes fruit flavors, lemon verbena has a strong affinity with fresh fruits. It also makes a relaxing and soothing tea, which is served after meals in Chile and Mexico.

Mexican oregano (L. graveolens), a close relative of lemon verbena, has an intense aroma of oregano combined with the sweetness of licorice. The ridged leaves are slightly elongated and oval in shape with a somewhat hairy texture. Mexican oregano should be consumed with care because it contains camphor, which is toxic in large quantities. In Mexico, where it’s preferred over Mediterranean oregano, it’s used in pay de queso (cheesecake made with cream cheese and condensed milk) and to flavor tomato-based sauces, stews, and beans. Kosere is an Amharic name for L. adoensis, another species in the verbena family, which is native to East Africa. It has a sweet aroma and is used in Ethiopia’s rich spice mixtures.

Season: Lemon verbena is occasionally found in markets in the United States in hot summer months. Mexican oregano is found fresh in Mexico and in the southwestern United States, especially Texas.

Purchase and Avoid: Look for lemon verbena with brightly colored, fragrant, and lively leaves. Tips are preferable. Look for Mexican oregano with full, unblemished leaves.

Storage: Lemon verbena wilts quickly, so store it refrigerated, wrapped in damp paper towels inside a plastic bag.

Serving Suggestions: Add lemon verbena to fruit salads, fruit jellies, cold drinks, and salad dressings. Use lemon verbena to flavor creamy desserts like panna cotta and custards. Sprinkle chorizo with Mexican oregano. Season Texas-style chili con carne and fajitas with Mexican oregano, or add to enchilada sauce.

Food Affinities: Lemon verbena: Chicken, cream, fish, guava, mango, nectarine, papaya, raspberry, seafood, strawberry, sugar. Mexican oregano: Allspice, beef, chiles, chili powder, chorizo, cumin, garlic, lime, tomato sauce.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com