Flavors of the World: Oregano of Greece
A Taste of the Mediterranean
Like the fragrances of rosemary and garlic, the scent of oregano, with its hint of lemon and black pepper, is deeply evocative of the Mediterranean. In fact, the name oregano comes from the Greek "oros" meaning mountain and "ganos" meaning joy, which literally translates to “joy of the mountains.”
From Greece to the shores of Italy, to France and even to the northern reaches of England, oregano carpets the landscape.
But It Was a Virtual Unknown in the USA Until...
...the end of the Second World War. It is said that soldiers returning from the War had fallen in love with the tangy pizza sauces of Italy, and with that "pizza-mania" came an increase in the purchase of dried oregano in the United States. I'm not talking about just a slight bump in sales, would you believe 5,200 percent?!
Yes, oregano is definitely the “pizza herb." In fact, it seems pizza sauce just isn't right without that familiar rustic flavor. And although fresh oregano can add a bright note to fresh green salads, it is really best used dried—it is one of the few culinary herbs that become more flavorful when dried.
And Now It Is Everywhere!
There is a weed in my garden. Some of you know it as the pizza herb; you add it to your Mexican enchiladas, stir it into the marinade for your Greek grilled chicken, and toss it (with wild abandon) into your spaghetti sauce. But in my life, oregano is more than a simple herb that appears here and there. She is boundless, unhampered, a free-spirited brazen hussy of an herb!
But I love it.
One plant purchased 20 years ago has introduced itself into almost every nook and cranny of my flowerbeds. Despite frigid winter chills, spring deluges, summer droughts, and year-around visits by resident deer and bunnies, our oregano not only survives, it thrives. And in my world wherever a "good" plant exists, that is one less place for a dandelion to take root.
If you take a moment to look closely at an oregano stem you will notice something unusual—the stem is square-shaped, not round. Know what that means? It is a member of the mint family. No wonder is has traveled so far.
But, Don't Get Confused
Not all oregano's are created equal. What is sold as "Mexican oregano" is actually from a different botanical family (Lippia graveolens) and is the dried leaf of Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage.
Keep in mind that "Mexican oregano" is a bit stronger in flavor than Greek (or Spanish) oregano, therefore:
- if your recipe specifically calls for Mexican oregano, you should use it
- know that if you use Mexican oregano in place of Greek oregano it will have a stronger, more pronounced flavor.
- Botanical Name: Origanum vulgareis
- Type of Plant: perennial
- How to cultivate: easily starts from seeds but can also be propagated from cuttings
- Where to plant: good for container gardening but also happy with other plants in the garden
- Light requirements: Full sun
- Water requirements: Doesn't need as much water as other herbs
- Pinch back or trim to keep compact—can grow to at least 2 feet in height
- Soil: loamy
- USDA Hardiness: 3–10
- Pests and Diseases: root and stem rot, aphids, spider mites
Homemade Pizza Sauce
Do you always rely on pizza sauce from a jar? Fuhgeddaboutit! This recipe (which, of course, uses dried Greek oregano) is simply too easy. You have no excuse to not make this in your kitchen.
- 1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes.
And now that you have this amazing (and simple-to-make) sauce, let's build a pizza. Make the dough. You can do this!
Super Quick and Easy Pizza Dough
This is the pizza crust that you need when there is no time to wait for a dough to be kneaded, proofed, punched down, shaped, and rested once again. This is your quick-and-dirty pizza crust. It won't have the billowy bubbles of raised pizza dough or the cracker-like snap of proofed and thinly-rolled dough, but it will do in a pinch.
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Place warm water in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast over and stir just to moisten. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir quickly to mix thoroughly. Let dough rest 5 minutes.
- Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead about 10 times. Divide dough in half and place each half in the center of a lightly greased 12-inch pizza pan. Press or roll the dough to the edges. (A lightly-floured pizza roller makes this a cinch!).
- Top your pizza as desired and bake 15 minutes or until edges are brown and cheese and sauce are bubbling.
But when you have a little more time, why not make the "real thing"? Making yeast dough really isn't difficult. I'll give you step-by-step directions, and there is also a video at the end of this article.
Traditional Pizza Dough
- 1 cup warm water, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- In a small bowl combine 1/4 cup of the warm water with the sugar and yeast. Let stand about 10 minutes or until bubbly.
- In a separate bowl combine the flour and salt. Make a well (depression) in the flour, add the yeast/water mixture, the remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and the olive oil. Mix with your hands (or a Kitchen Aid mixer with dough paddle if you are lucky) until a rough dough forms.
- Lightly flour a work surface. Plop the dough down into the middle and begin kneading. It should take about 6 to 8 minutes to achieve a dough that is smooth and elastic. Place this beautiful clump of dough into a clean, lightly greased bowl. Cover it with a kitchen towel and place is lovingly into a safe warm place. It should take about 1–2 hours for it to double in size.
Note: If like me you live in a house that is frequently/always chilly you can find a safe abode for your dough by doing this:
(a) turn your oven on to 150 degrees F (or the lowest setting it will go to).
(b) wait 30 seconds.
(c) turn off the oven and then use THIS as the place for your dough to rise.
- Punch down the dough. Knead 1 minute. Now you can use this perfectly smooth, elastic dough to make two 12-inch pizzas.
Honey Oregano Pork Chops
An easy marinade packed with fresh garlic, honey, and oregano makes these oregano pork chops an easy quick weeknight dinner. They can be grilled or pan-fried in less than half an hour.
Crispy Oregano Potatoes
Crispy oregano potatoes are simple, mouth-wateringly delicious, and addictively good. Roasting lemon with the potatoes intensifies its flavor and the topping of feta is tangy and salty and balances out the tart lemon flavors. These would be a wonderful side dish to have with roast chicken or grilled fish.
This chimichurri sauce is rich with the flavors of garlic, parsley, good-quality olive oil, and fresh oregano. It would be a perfect marinade (or brush-on topping) for that roast chicken (or grilled fish) that I just mentioned.
© 2016 Linda Lum