Other Names: Anrar or satar barri (Arabic); common oregano; diktamos or rigani (Greek); dost, kostets, or _wilder _majoran (German); doste, marjolaine bâtarde, marjolaine sauvage, marazolette, origan, pelevoué, thé rouge, or thym de berger (French); dushitsa (Russian); erba acciuga or origano (Italian); güveyik otu, İzmir kekiği, or kekikotu (Turkish); kungsmynta or vild mejram (Swedish); orégano (Spanish); orégão (Portuguese); şovârv (Romanian); wild marjoram.

General Description: Oregano (Origanum vulgare), an herb native to the Mediterranean, has dime-sized, often fuzzy, soft green leaves with an unmistakable pungent, robust fragrance. The ancient Greeks believed oregano was created by the goddess Aphrodite as a symbol of happiness. Some confusion surrounds this herb because many related plants are called oregano in different countries. There are many species of oregano, as well, but the influence of climate, season, and soil is greater than the differences between the various species, some of which may be closer to marjoram. Italian oregano has narrower leaves, while Sicilian oregano has white flowers and a sweet, pungent aroma. Dittany of Crete (O. dictamnus), or hop marjoram, is used as an aromatic in making vermouth. Greek oregano, a special cultivar, is the most common in the marketplace.

The dish most associated with oregano is pizza, which originated with bread bakers in Naples, Italy, who topped their dough with oregano and tomato sauce seasoned with hot red peppers. Throughout the Mediterranean, fresh or dried oregano leaves and blossoms lend their flavor to all sorts of rustic dishes, including beans, thick soups, stews, casseroles, stuffings, and sauces. The fresh leaves and tender shoots of oregano are used as cooking greens in India. In Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, it seasons chili con carne and fajitas and is used in chili powder.

Season: Oregano is in season in summer, with mild, tender leaves early in the season and sharp, biting flavor after the plant blossoms.

Purchase and Avoid: Greek dried oregano on the branch is of excellent quality and worth seeking out. Buy dried oregano in smaller quantities to use in long-cooked sauces, where its flavor will have time to develop and mellow.

Storage: Fresh oregano is sturdy and will last up to 1 week in the refrigerator, as long as it doesn’t get too cold.

Serving Suggestions: Marinate cubes or strips of lamb shoulder with garlic, oregano, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper, then thread on skewers and grill to make souvlaki. Sprinkle fresh oregano over a Greek salad. Season hearty southern Italian–style tomato sauce and pizza sauce with oregano.

Food Affinities: Anchovy, capers, chicken, eggplant, feta cheese, garlic, green olives, kalamata olives, lamb, olive oil, pizza, pork, tomato, tuna, yellow squash, zucchini.

from Quirk Books: