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An intensely flavored herb, ground oregano brings a peppery bite and a slightly sweet, earthy aroma to the kitchen. In leaf form, you’ll recognize it as a favorite add-on topping for pizza, along with red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese. Use ground oregano when you want the pungent warmth but not the visual element of the leaves in the final dish. Oregano is the assertive cousin to marjoram and a member of the mint family of herbs. It’s at home in classic Italian and Greek sauces, and meat and fish dishes. You’ll also love its zippy flavor in dressings and sauces for cooked and raw vegetables. Use your nose as a guide to oregano’s freshness. One whiff should immediately bring to mind the savory-sweet aroma of your neighborhood pizzeria.
Q: If I don’t have ground oregano on hand, what makes a good substitute?
A: You’ll find a number of excellent substitutes for ground oregano in the Mediterranean pantry. Whole oregano leaves are our first choice, with marjoram as a close second. Like oregano, marjoram is a member of the mint family and shares the herb’s peppery flavor and aroma. It’s just a bit less pungent. Basil leaves or Italian seasoning are also good stand-ins. Be sure to crumble or grind the basil leaves to a powder before adding them to your recipe. Fresh oregano or marjoram, finely minced, is another possibility. One tablespoon of chopped fresh herb equals one teaspoon of dried. Mexican oregano? Not a match. This variety is sharper and lends citrus and anise flavors that might change the flavor of your dish.
Oregano has long been a favorite in the Mediterranean kitchen. In the Greek language, the word oregano means “joy of the mountain,” and was said to be a favorite of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Ancient people attributed special medicinal powers to it. But oregano wasn’t widely consumed in the United States until G.I.s returned from Italy during World War II with a taste for pasta and pizza with tomato sauce. It’s been an American spice-cupboard standard ever since.
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