Oregano – The Multi-Cultural, (Politically Correct) Herb
Oregano was mentioned as one of the herbs in Italian Seasoning, and is the subject of today’s Tasty Tuesday Tip. Oregano is an important culinary herb. It is widely used in Turkish, Palestinian, Syrian, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Latin American, and Italian cuisine. Oregano and basil combine to create that special flavor we have come to love on our pizza. It is the leaves that are used in cooking, and the dried herb is typically more flavorful than the fresh version.
Saying, “I like oregano,” is like saying, “I like weather.” There are several different types of oregano just as there are several different kinds of weather. Each is unique and used for different styles of cooking. While oreganos typically contain vitamin K, iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium and vitamins A and C, the amount used in dishes is so small that the nutritious significance is insignificant. However, adding a small amount of oregano to bland vegetables, eggs or cheese dishes that are nutritionally significant is a great way to “wake them up.”
The word “Oregano” derives its name from two Greek words meaning “the joy of the mountain.” It is a hardy member of the mint family that has been used since ancient times. It was long referred to as wild marjoram.
Oregano, the Italian version, gained great popularity in the United States after 1940 when returning G.I.’s longed for the flavor of pizza they had sampled in Italy. Oregano is often referred to as the “pizza herb.” It’s a natural for all types of tomato sauces.
If you are making a Mediterranean dish you will want to purchase either the seeds or seedlings for O. heracleoticum or Oregano onites, both of which are considered Greek oregano. Greek oregano has a more “forward” flavor than its Italian and French cousins.
The oregano herb used in French and English cuisine is a sweeter variety. Common oregano, O. vulgare, has other names like pot marjoram or wild marjoram. It is oregano but differentiated as marjoram because of its sweeter, less pungent taste.
If you have grown up in the Southwest you are most likely using Lippia graveolens, which is not a true member of the oregano family, but is actually a type of desert sage, called Mexican Oregano. It is often used to add flavor to dishes with a flavor profile that is both heavy and with a lot of volume such as chili powder. Its leaves are larger than Greek oregano or Italian oregano. It has less of a minty taste and is has more of a strong earthy taste. It is an important member of the herbs and spices used to make the seasoning blend we know as “Chili Powder.”
Cooks are quick to point out that the Greek, Italian and Mexican versions of the herb are not the same. Botanists do abide by using the names L. graveolens HBK for the Mexican type and Origanum vulgare L. for the Mediterranean type. Regardless of the variety you select, the growing instructions remain the same.
Try this quick and simple shrimp recipe featuring oregano as its main source of flavor, from Gourmet (no longer in circulation), July 2008, by Shelley Wiseman.
Grilled Oregano Shrimp
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 small red onion
24 peeled and deveined large shrimp (about 1 pound)
1 pint of grape tomatoes
4 oz. Feta Cheese
Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high heat for gas); see Grilling Procedure.
Stir together oil, oregano, and 3/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a bowl.
Cut onion lengthwise into 3/4-inch wedges and separate layers. Toss shrimp and onion with oil mixture, then thread 6 shrimp onto each skewer, alternating with single layers of onion.
Grill shrimp, covered only if using a gas grill, turning once, until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes total.
Remove from the skewers into a bowl and toss with the tomatoes and Feta Cheese.
Until next week, I leave you with this. Medical studies have shown hugging and kissing someone will increase your endorphin level (known for fortifying your immune system). So, stay well and hug and kiss someone; it will strengthen your immune system and possibly freak them out, especially if you do not know who they are.
Chef David Hall, CGC
Thyme for a Chef, LLC