Veggie of the Week - Oregano
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Oregano is the spicy member of the Mint family. The commonly known Oregano is a somewhat piquant herb with mint overtones that speaks 'Italian' to most noses and palates. It's milder cousin is Marjoram, an herb with a rich almost winey flavor and aroma whose mint heritage is often patent. Marjoram is sometimes known as 'domesticated Oregano', and Oregano is found wild all over western Europe and the Mediterranean.
This large range has led to the emergence of a number of local varieties of Oregano with distinctive properties. Greek Oregano has the same almost round leaf as Italian, only smaller, but it's sharpness explains why the Greeks 'looked Oregano' at a passing enemy. Syrian Oregano, found at Coleman Farms, looks deceptively like Marjoram, only slightly fuzzy, but is as sharp as some hot chilis.
These properties have their uses. Marjoram is a natural in salad, and as an herb with mild vegetables or soft cheeses,
where it unobtrusively adds richness to taste and especially to aroma. Italian Oregano gets used a lot in tomato sauces for pasta and pizza, where it's slight edge enhances the tomato flavor. Both of these, though, can be overcome by stronger flavored substrates or ones that require cooking. Greek Oregano could be used in marinades, for example, and with stronger cheeses or even in a fruit salad. Syrian Oregano is good with beans, or to enliven a pasta e fagioli, and stands up very well in bread and pizza doughs.
All the Oreganos are also a nice component in tisanes. You can use a few sprigs of one or several of them in a pint of boiling water,
or put a bit in when you brew black or green tea, served either hot or chilled. Marjoram is worth adding like mint to fruit juice - orange juice comes to mind, and lemonade.
Available from Coleman Farms (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) at Santa Barbara area Farmers' Markets.