Cusco has a great wealth of herbs, but only a few of them are regularly used to prepare exquisite food. All have their own names and are differentiated by scent, leaf shape, and color. It is in these months when they grow rapidly because we are in the time when rain falls regularly.
Our gardens are ever more colorful. In these you will find a variety or flowers, roses, herbs, and even trees that bear fruit. Our mothers are always caring for their gardens. They are especially concerned for the herbs that they use to make up our different dishes. These are known by the following names: cilantro, parsley, mint (hierba buena), and huacatay. These are just some of the herbs that we always find in our gardens.
While all of these herbs have specific function when you make food, we can say that the most important is the huacatay. It is not only used as an herb for cooking but also appears in a sauce that we all love called uchucuta or ahí. It is a hot and flavorful sauce that is colored green or brown and is made from huacatay.
Huacatay is from the marigold family and is a dark green in color. Its leaves are not large and they have a deep, rich scent. In English it is sometimes called black mint.
From this herb is not only made the popular uchucuta, there are also a variety fo dishes that need it in order to get their unique flavor. For example we have the pollo al huacatay. A baked chicken, is one of the dishes that most uses it, since to put it together requires a large amount of the herb. You use it at the moment of seasoning the bird. You blend the herb with other ingredients to give the chicken just the right scrumptious flavor. Another dish that requires this magical herb is locro de zapallo, a squash stew. For this dish, though, you only need a few leaves to give it flavor. Of course there is also the cuy al horno, a baked guinea pig, which is one of our most recognized and typical dishes. It also needs huacatay, though on this occasion people use not just the leaves but the branches and stems as well.
Huacatay is found in most of the homes of Cuzco. When someone does not have it at home they must run to their nearest neighbors and ask them if they can give them some. You can also find it in our markets. There, besides buying it, you can take away some tips for how to use it in your cooking.