(Yields enough dip for a couple-dozen crackers)
Desert oregano (Lippia graveolens) is a close relative of lemon verbena, which might explain the citrusy notes of this Southwestern herb. The flavor along with the purported health benefits has me intrigued with this food. According to Slow Food USA, desert oregano is “one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the plant world.” Blockbuster flavor and superior nutrition? That’s what I look for in my ingredients!
I also find the herb’s provenance inspiring. Desert oregano is native to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts of the Southwest, which encompass parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. It is just one of two culinary herbs commonly in use today that is indigenous to the United States (California bay leaf is the other). Thyme, basil, dill, sage, rosemary, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, marjoram, chervil, and common oregano are all from faraway lands. This herb is special because it is unique to our homeland.
Desert oregano can be found dried in most supermarkets (often listed as “Mexican oregano”), and it has become my “go-to” herb for Mexican-inspired preparations. Native Mexicans use desert oregano in a variety of dishes, adding it to tomato-based sauces and stews, flavoring beans, enlivening fish, and even spicing up cheesecake (taking the place of mint that we often use here in the States).
I like to use desert oregano to pump up my pesto. Take any pesto recipe and swap out a bit of the basil for the desert oregano. You won’t need much, as too much desert oregano will give the sauce an unpleasant pungency. Start with an 1/8 cup of desert oregano for every 2 cups of fresh basil. As you get used to the additional POW! of your new pesto, you might find yourself adding even more.
Here’s a fun spread good for a couple dozen crackers. It is pesto-inspired, but with a creaminess like spinach dip:
1 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed (I prefer Genovese Basil, but common sweet basil is fine)
⅛ cup fresh desert oregano leaves (lightly packed)
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 oz queso blanco (queso fresco or fresh mozzarella is fine)
¼ cup roasted, salted pistachios (shelled, of course)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients (except the olive oil) in a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Now let the processor run and drizzle in the olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
Place a dollop of the spread onto your favorite cracker. Garnish with a single pistachio and desert oregano leaf and then serve to your drooling guests. (Addition: I prefer to place a drop or two of hot chili sauce onto the garnished cracker, but that certainly adds a bit of heat to these snacks).