Oregano consists of the leaves of the oregano plant, and it goes by many names including wild marjoram. It is usually used in its dry form to keep it from overpowering other ingredients (oregano is one of the few herbs where the dry form has a less concentrated flavor than the fresh). It has been used in cooking and traditional medicine for millennia. A member of the mint family, it plays a major role in Mediterranean cuisines.
Oregano’s intense, earthy and slightly camphoraceous flavor notes are versatile but can ruin a dish if you use the herb incorrectly. Below are some ways to use both dried and fresh oregano to get the best results from each.
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In a dry rub
Dried oregano can provide a valuable herbal note in a dry rub for grilled or slow-smoked meats. You can use dried oregano leaves in the standard chopped form, or you can grind them to a fine powder in a spice grinder before combining them with other dry rub ingredients. The powder form may ensure a more even dispersal.
While dried oregano is better suited to a dry rub, you can use dried or fresh oregano in a marinade. Oregano blends well with other typical marinade ingredients like vinegar and olive oil.
In tomato-based sauces
One of the most popular ways to use oregano is to pair it with cooked tomatoes. It is an essential ingredient in Italian tomato-based sauces like those for pasta and pizza. In both kinds of sauce, oregano is usually one component of a complex flavor profile that includes garlic and olive oil along with other herbs like thyme and basil. In pizza sauce, it contributes one of the more noticeable flavors. Pizza sauce needs the aggressive herbal notes of oregano to stand out against the creaminess of mozzarella and strongly flavored toppings.
In chimichurri sauce
Oregano is one of the two main ingredients in chimichurri sauce, which is used heavily in cuisine from Argentina and Uruguay. Traditionally, it is served as a condiment with grilled and roasted meats and is a good dipping sauce for empanadas. The other herb in chimichurri sauce is parsley.
While recipes from other parts of South America may include cilantro or Mexican oregano, these are not ingredients in the original version. (Mexican oregano comes from a different plant, despite sharing some of the same flavors as Mediterranean oregano.) Ideally, you will want to use fresh oregano to make chimichurri sauce but dried oregano can work in a pinch.
Basil is the herb that most people associate with pesto, but fresh oregano can work just as well. As with basil pesto, oregano pesto is a paste made by grinding the herb with olive oil and garlic, as well as a little Parmesan. Oregano will deliver more of a savory punch compared to basil’s sweetness, but you can use the pesto in similar ways. Oregano pesto makes a good salad dressing, and you can brush roasted vegetables with it.
In a vinaigrette
Fresh or dried oregano can provide the herbal note in a vinaigrette. Along with providing its distinctive savory note and slight peppery bite, oregano can be a visually appealing addition to an oil-and-vinegar salad dressing.
On roasted vegetables
Oregano’s savory herbaceous notes can help to complement roasted vegetables like squash and zucchini. You can sprinkle on the fresh herb at the end of the cooking time, or use the dried herb at the start.