Herb Pairings: Mediterranean Marjoram and Oregano
These two herbs are kissing cousins, they are so closely related. They are native to the Mediterranean region and appear in Italian, French and Greek cooking with great frequency. They are also similar in appearance, except that the leaves of the marjoram plant tend to be smaller and softer looking than those of oregano. Marjoram (also known as sweet marjoram) is also a much more gentle herb than oregano, whose flavor tends to be big and bold. Good bees love marjoram, especially in bloom, when it is covered in tiny white flowers.
The word oregano is from the Greek and means “joy of the mountains” which is where many of the wild varieties thrive. In fact, in Greece the wild oreganos are known by one name, rigani. They are much more pungent and earthy than regular oregano.
Because the flavor of marjoram is delicate, it is best used fresh and added to the dish at the end. Oregano, on the other hand, intensifies in flavor as it dries (unless it’s very old; in which case you should throw it away). Both pair well with any tomato-based dish or sauce, grilled meats, pastas, oil and vinegar dressings, Italian and Greek food, seafood, beans, poultry, etc. Oregano is a key ingredient in pizza sauce and Mexican oregano is one of the ingredients in commercial chili powder. Who knew?
Both are perennials and make a lovely addition to any kitchen herb garden. Because they are native to the Mediterranean, they are well adapted to growing in Phoenix.
Since we live in the Southwest, you no doubt have come across recipes calling for Mexican oregano. Mexican and Mediterranean are not the same, nor are they interchangeable if you want to be really authentic. According to thekitchn, Mexican oregano is actually related to lemon verbena, a lovely branchy herb smelling wonderfully of lemons. Like its relative, Mexican oregano still has pungent flavor, but also tastes a bit citrusy. We will talk more about Mexican oregano when we discuss cilantro.
Here’s a recipe for Greek salad dressing from allrecipes.com. It makes a bunch but you can scale it down to fit your needs.
Fabulous Greek Dressing – serves 8
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- pepper and salt
- 3/4 tsp onion powder
- 3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tsp red wine vinegar
Combine ingredients in a large jar and shake well to combine. Enjoy!
Written by Susan Cypert, Phoenix Farmers Market Examiner at Examiner.com