Oregano is a mainstay herb of Italian food, and it traveled across the seas to feature in numerous dishes in central and South America. Incorporating oregano into your culinary endeavors gives your home-cooked eggs, meat, and vegetable meals a satisfying complexity. Welcome to Oregano 101, where inspiration is the order of the day.
Oregano, also known as origanum, has a robust, savory taste that's a bit minty, peppery, and bitter, and this earthy flavor profile tones down a tad when it's cooked. You can deploy the dried version and its stronger fresh counterpart in a single dish to make the most of this herb.
Fresh oregano is somewhere between hardy and tender, so it can tolerate heat. It tastes good raw in small doses, and you don't have to chop it up too fine for it to be palatable.
The main varieties of oregano include Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare) which is common and tends to be mild, Cretan oregano (Origanum onites), which is similar, and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens), which is slightly more pungent. They all impart a wonderful flavor to soups, stews, and vegan or vegetarian legume dishes.
Garlic and onion pair well with oregano in a vast array of dishes. Thyme, basil, and marjoram are solid substitutes for the herb in tomato-based sauces, although they're a little subtler and sweeter.
Whether you buy fresh oregano from the store or pluck some from your garden, you'll want to select a bunch that's vibrantly green and doesn't look wilted. Rinse your sprigs in a colander and pat them dry. Then, check your recipe to see whether you're supposed to separate the stems from the leaves or not. You can keep the stems for a bouquet garni, for example, or strip or cut the leaves off the stems for mincing, chiffonading, or blitzing.
Oregano will keep in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to three days, but you can also freeze just the leaves from an abundant harvest in a freezer-safe bag for up to a year.
You're likely much more familiar with dried oregano than the fresh kind because it's more convenient and cost-efficient. It's also less overwhelming while retaining a potent scent. Fresh oregano is often used toward the end of the cooking process, while dried oregano goes into the pot early.
If you have more fresh oregano than you need, you can hang a bunch of tied-up sprigs to dry, preferably somewhere with good airflow, that's cool and dark. Once it's dry, store it sealed tightly in a dark place, and use it within six months.
Before using dried herbs like oregano, press the herb into your palm to release the aromatic oils within.
Oregano is a staple of Italian cuisine—you'll find it on pizzas and in pasta, gnocchi, and Bolognese sauce. The herb is also great when infused in oils, or to marinate feta, as well as in Greek salad dressings and various vinaigrettes and lemony pestos.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, chimichurri is a popular uncooked condiment in Argentina and Uruguay. It uses oregano, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, and red pepper flakes for a fresh punch of flavor best served at room temperature.
Send your bread and butter breakfast or snack to private school, and you get fancy herbed bread and dips. All it takes is a tablespoon of dried oregano in your dough and a mix of a few leaves of chopped up herbs, salt, chili, and lemon juice atop your all-the-rage butter board.
Remember—salt, fat, acid, and heat, and your taste buds will feel complete.
Mexican cuisine is big on oregano, so it gets a special mention because here in the U.S., it's closer than Italy to our shores. If you love chili con (or sans) carne, you may want to sprinkle some oregano in there for a flavor that's muy bueno.
You'll also see oregano in spicy, well-seasoned mole recipes and as a companion to pozole.
You can preserve fava beans in oregano oil for some moreish nibbles. Or if you like to turn up the heat, pop a few pan-fried jalapeños in a glass jar with vegetable oil, white distilled vinegar, natural rice vinegar, salt, sugar, oregano, and other aromatics of your choice. Within a few days, you'll have a bottle of versatile yumminess at your fingertips.
You can use pickled jalapeños in yet more Mexican food, such as tacos, quesadillas, and crunchy, cheesy nachos. Delish!
Oregano complements chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, and fish, so if you're a carnivore who hasn't been using this herb, it's high time you experienced the depth of flavor it brings to dishes. Start with a chargrilled tuna steak the way Jamie Oliver likes it: barbecued and brilliant with a drizzle of homemade oregano oil whipped up with a pestle and mortar.
Serve this with peas, baby spinach, watercress, and rocket in a zesty dressing for a nutritious meal with off-the-charts flavor.
Herbs don't just delight tastebuds—they're also rich in flavonoids that benefit your immune system. You can brew oregano to make a healthy tea; it might not be tasty, but it could help with digestive issues, nausea, sore throat, and cough.
Simply place two teaspoons of dried oregano in a tea ball, add a cup of boiling water, and steep for three minutes. Sweeten with a teaspoon of honey to help the medicine go down.