Oregano is an herb found in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cuisines, but it s a relatively recent flavor for the American palate. It is said to have been brought to the United States when soldiers came home from World War II.
They brought the herb and their appetite for dishes flavored with oregano. Now it is nearly synonymous with pizza and Italian pasta sauces, and is frequently combined with basil and tomato.
Mediterranean oregano is milder than the Mexican variety, which is used in spicy dishes, according to the Food Lover s Companion. The stronger Mexican variety usually is found dried in Latin markets.
Beyond its use as a pizza herb or a Mexican spice, there s a world of dishes that use oregano, whether it is fresh or dried.
Fresh oregano is used in the red sauce made at Mancy s Italian Grill, 5453 Monroe St. [Fresh oregano] is not as pungent as the dried oregano, says George Mancy, managing partner. We seldom use dry herbs. We also use fresh herb mixture on pizza. (The herb combination is fresh parsley, basil, oregano, and thyme.) You don t want to use too much or too little, he says.
Oregano doesn t lose its pungency when you heat it, says Matt Harding, corporate chef for Bravo! Cucina Italiana restaurants, based in Columbus. It continues to grow and permeate in a dish. (Toledo s Bravo! is located at 5100 Monroe St. at Westfield Franklin Park.) The corporate chef just returned from a tasting adventure in Italy s Emilia-Romagna region.
We use dried oregano in our marinara sauce, he said in a phone interview. Oregano is a powerful flavor agent.
The herb is also mixed with thyme, basil, garlic, and olive oil for a marinade seasoning for fish and chicken for the restaurant. The Mushroom Bruschetta has fresh oregano as a flavoring and fresh oregano is sprinkled on Mushroom Pizza before it goes in the oven.
Oregano is also considered an essential for tomato and eggplant dishes such as Eggplant Parmesan made with marinara sauce at Bravo!
A classic ratatouille made with oregano includes eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, and onion sauted in olive oil. Peppers and mushrooms can also be used.
Chef Laurent Tourondel, who is French-born and trained, includes Oregano-Breaded Tomatoes in his cookbook, Bistro Laurent Tourondel (Wiley, $34.95). The dish goes well with leg of lamb, veal porterhouse, and ribeye or strip steaks. The cookbook also includes a recipe for Creamy Oregano Dressing using dried oregano.
Oregano is also a common spice used in Greek food, notes Mr. Mancy. Use it on a Greek salad with dressing or combine with lemon, garlic, oregano, on chicken, he says.
Oregano grows in the mountains of Greece, says Manos Paschalis, owner of Manos Greek Restaurant at 1701 Adams St. We use oregano on baked chicken, roast lamb, and broiled items like shish kabobs. We mix it with salt, pepper, and olive oil and rub it into the meat with garlic.
From the National Cattlemen s Beef Association comes the recipe for Beef, Sweet Pepper, and Mushroom Kabobs seasoned with oregano, olive oil, garlic, and black pepper. It is served with a Cucumber Sauce laced with feta cheese.
Feta cheese and oregano is a tasty combination that Mr. Paschalis uses at Manos. Drizzle the feta cheese with olive oil and sprinkle with oregano, he says.
In Greek salad, oregano is crumbled over the peppers, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese. The Greek-American rendition is to add lettuce, according to Susannah Hoffman in The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking (Workman, $19.95).
Oregano is a member of the marjoram family and the variety that grows in Greece is aromatic and richly flavorful. It is used in meat and vegetable stews and casseroles, especially those with tomato sauce and eggplant and is the herb for an omelet.
Mr. Paschalis says that in Greece, honey producers put their hives near where the oregano grows wild, so the honey gets the flavor.
Mexican and Latin dishes
Cookbook author Rick Bayless sets the record straight about Mexican oregano in Mexican Everyday (Norton, $29.95). The oregano-scented member of the large New World verbena family is sold in Mexican markets in the whole leaf and dried forms. Read the fine print on the bottles to discover whether the contents are Mexican or Mediterranean oregano.
In Diana Kennedy s The Art of Mexican Cooking, (Potter, $30), which was first published in 1989 and is now back in print, there are several soup recipes using Mexican oregano, including Meatball Soup (Sopa de Albondigas) and Sopa Tarasca which resembles tortilla soup. She also uses oregano for Barbacoa de Pollo or pit-barbecued chicken.
That didn t stop me from using dried oregano in Cuban Black Bean Stew from Lynne Rossetto Kasper s latest book, The Splendid Table s How to Eat Supper, written with her producer Sally Swift (Clarkson Potter, $35). I used my leftover Easter ham bone in this after-work recipe. (The most interesting thing about this recipe was the addition of sherry vinegar instead of lime juice at the end. It s an ingredient used in other Cuban recipes.)
In addition we tested Huevos Rancheros from Cooking Light Complete Cookbook (Oxmoor House, $34.95) calling for dried oregano (it made no distinction between Mediterranean or Mexican).
Indeed, there s a world of recipes using oregano.
Contact Kathie Smith at: email@example.com or 419-724-6155.
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