Marigold Magic

Ocopa with Huacatay sauce containing Tagetes minuta

Ocopa with Huacatay sauce containing Tagetes minuta

Question

I love the smell of Stinking Roger, but my neighbour says it’s a weed to get rid of. Please do tell me what use I can make of it.

Kelly, Facebook

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Answer

Kelly, do not fear, it’s a willing herb from South America. If you like the scent of this plant, you probably also like African and French marigolds, and these two plants also have edible petals. My favourite French marigold is ‘Himalayan’, a heritage cultivar that can reach 1.25m tall here in Brisbane. They all belong to the genus Tagetes. Stinking Roger is Tagetes minuta (a reference to its minuscule flowers).

Just like other marigolds, you can save the seed of Stinking Roger. You can grow it as a green manure to enrich the soil in vegetable and flower beds. Dig the young plants in when they are 20-30cm tall and still soft and juicy. It’s a pleasant, aromatic task. If you keep the soil moist for a fortnight, the decomposing Stinking Roger liberates thiocyanate gas that biofumigates soil, killing root knot nematodes. Mustard, French and African marigolds can be used the same way.

Ocopa with Huacatay sauce containing Tagetes minuta

I’ve just made my version of Ocopa, a traditional Peruvian dish of boiled eggs and potatoes served on lettuce with a pesto-like Huacatay sauce made with Stinking Roger. I liked it. The flavour of marigolds is the same as their scent, although they lose their scent during the preparation of the sauce.

Two seedlings of Stinking Roger appeared by my corn. Although the tallest stands 2 metres tall, it’s willowy with only about three handfuls of leaves I can pick. That’s inconvenient because there are other uses for it that I’d like to try…such as Black Mint paste, another Andean speciality.

It’s said that green tea made from the leaves relieve the symptoms of a cold. Others say it’s a weed. I’d like to grow some more for trials…

OCOPA and HUACATAY SAUCE (pron. wa-ka-tay)

INGREDIENTS
Serves four
Onion, rough chopped – 1 large (or ½ bunch rough chopped spring onions)
Garlic, peeled, rough chopped – 5 cloves (or ½ cup rough chopped garlic chives)
Vegetable oil – 2 tbsp.
Huacatay (Tagetes minuta) – ½ cup (rough chopped leaves, minus central rib)
Fresh chilli – ¼ cup or to taste
Crackers or crisp bread – 100g, broken into pieces
Roasted peanuts or cashew – 120g (2/3 cup)
Fetta (or queso fresco) – 200g, diced
Evaporated milk – as needed, to make the paste
Salt to taste
Hard boiled eggs – 2 eggs per person, halved
Boiled potato – 100g per person, diced
Lettuce/ endive leaf garnish

TO MAKE 
A frying pan with a lid is useful.
Heat oil; sauté onion, chilli and garlic until soft (about 5 minutes), but do not brown or crisp.
Remove from heat, stir in huacatay, put on the lid, and allow to cool.
Combine sautéed ingredients with peanuts, cheese and cracker pieces; place in blender, and purée until smooth.
While puréeing, add just enough evaporated milk to make a smooth, creamy sauce.
Huacatay sauce has a thick but pourable consistency.
Taste, adding salt if required.
Slice boiled potatoes and hard boiled eggs, divide into serves and place on top of lettuce/ endive leaves.
Top each serving with a dollop of sauce.

Jerry Coleby-Williams

2nd July 2012