Sunday, July 30, 2006

Can This Be Oregano?

I saw bunches of this herb with large, thick fuzzy leaves at Stokes Farm in Union Square on Friday. I thought it might be a variety of sage, but it turns out to be Cuban oregano, or Caribbean oregano, a very pungent variety of the herb. Wow. I would never have guessed oregano could look like this, and I really thought I had reached an age where you couldn’t get a bunch of oregano past me. You see how much there always is to learn. The young lady at the farmstand warned me that this herb is very strong and not suitable for salads.

Chocolate Lady: What about a lentil salad?

Farmstand lady: (skeptical shrug) If you can take it. . .

Well, last year I might have left the Cuban oregano to a braver soul, but because of Kalyn’s continually inspiring Weekend Herb Blogging, I was determined to construct a salad worthy of this herb, and I am so grateful that I did. I am hugging my monitor now, Kalyn!

Black Lentil Salad with Cuban Oregano

1 ½ cups black beluga lentils, or other lentils

1 small branch, plus two leaves Cuban oregano, or a few branches Mediterranean oregano, previously known as regular oregano, or some dried oregano.

2 chile pods

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3 shallots

1 or 2 bell peppers (I had one; two would have been nice)

3 medium to largish carrots (I had one each: yellow, orange, and purple)

Several sprigs fresh parsley, minced (I didn’t have any parsley, but it would have been perfect)

Salt, pepper and additional oil and vinegar to taste


Wash the lentils and cook them in a generous amount of salted water with the oregano branch and chile pods until tender but firm. For the batch I had, this took about 35 minutes.

Drain the lentils and discard the aromatics. While they are still warm, dress them with the oil and vinegar.

Here’s where I need to beg your indulgence. These are tiny little lentils, and in order that the finished salad have some coherent soundness, you are going to cut the vegetables into a tiny, tiny brunoise dice. That means 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch for the carrots, 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch by the thickness of the pepper’s flesh for the pepper, and 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch by the thickness of the leaves or walls or whatever you call the layers of the shallots. This sounds like lots of work, and it is, but it will be soothing, and the results will be delicious, and you love the people who are going to eat these lentils.

Add the diced vegetables and the minced parsley and the one or two remaining minced oregano leaves. Toss and taste for seasonings. You can serve the lentils cool or at room temperature, and they will be even more glorious if they have few hours to sit around and get acquainted.

This recipe made an enormous salad, something like eight cups. You may want to prepare 2/3 or 1/3 of this amount.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Kalyn said...

This sounds very interesting. I love lentils especially served cold and I like the combination of ingredients here. If I'm remember it correctly, I think a long, long time ago Mrs. D at Belly-timber wrote about this type of oregano. I've never seen it, but I'd love to taste some.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous sher said...

That looks very good!! Now I have to go outside and look at my oregano again!!!! Yours looks a little like mine. It's trying to take over the garden! It's fierce.

2:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I understand it, Cuban oregano is not genetically oregano, but another herb that has a taste similar to oregano, hence the name. But I could be wrong. Back in Canada, where I had a huge sun-room, I used to grow Cuban oregano in a pot because it is a much more forgiving plant than regular oregano, but I ended up mostly admiring its leaves and hardly ever cooking with it. At the end of the season I would cook up a big pot of chicken stock (sorry, vegetarians! but this will work with vegetable stock too) and flavoring it with the Cuban oregano; then freezing it in ice cube trays so that I could use it in my cooking through the winter, using one or two cubes as called for. This was nice in mid-winter when there were no local fresh herbs in sight. Why did I stop doing that? Will have to do it next summer. I don't know why, but Cuban oregano was quite common in Canada as much as ten years ago, but this is the first I've seen it in New York.
Nomi

11:41 AM  
Anonymous lindy said...

Looks plenty coherent, not to mention sound. Cuban oregano not being available around here-do you think some ordinary fresh oregano would be good? Is it a very different taste? I figure there must be some resemblance, hence the name?

On the other hand, "Russian Tarragon" doesn't resemble tarragon much at all.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Mimi said...

I just bought one of these plants today--I live in southeast Texas. I'd never seen anything like it so, I am going to give it a go in my herb garden this year.

8:51 PM  

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