I love this versatile side dish that Nicolasa Ramírez serves at La Pereñita, the always busy stand in the 20 de noviembre market in Oaxaca City. It’s a basic, almost effortless technique more than a recipe. I find it great for party menus because I can do everything ahead except the final sautéing of the vegetables. The same approach works well with many vegetables, though you must adjust the cooking time and size of the pieces depending on what you’re working with.
This is a name that seems to have gotten stuck to more than a dozen different Mexican herbs, none botanically related to the true Mediterranean oregano used in the U.S. Two kinds are important in Oaxacan cooking. “Mexican oregano,” which can be found in Latin American groceries and (in a version packaged by McCormick & Co.) many U.S. supermarkets, has a little resemblance to the true oregano, though it is more full-flavored. “Oaxacan oregano,” on the other hand, does not look or taste anything like any oregano I know. The leaves are larger, and it has a subtle grassy, lemony flavor that can’t be duplicated here.
My recipes call for both Oaxacan oregano and (usually as a second choice) Mexican oregano in the dried form. However, there are dishes in which the vividness of fresh herbs is important. Here I prefer to use fresh Mediterranean oregano. It may not be authentic, but it blends better with other fresh green accents than any dried herb.
Total Timeunder 30 minutes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party
Recipe Courseside dish
Dietary Considerationside dish
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, savory
Type of Dishvegetable
- 3 chayotes
- 2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crumbled (see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Peel and seed the chayotes and cut into ½-inch dice. Place in a medium-size saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to a boil over high heat, and cook for 5 minutes. Have ready a large bowl filled with ice water. Drain the chayotes and quickly plunge into the ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain well. Set aside in a bowl.
With a mortar and pestle or the flat of a heavy knife blade, crush the garlic to a paste with the oregano and salt. Toss well with the diced chayotes. Let stand until ready to serve.
In a medium-size skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until rippling. Add the chayotes with the garlic mixture that clings to them and cook, stirring constantly, until the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Serve at once.
1997 Zarela Martinez