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In Greek, oregano means “joy of the mountains.”  I say it is joy to my mouth!  My early memories of this earthy herb are family pizza nights (which would always be held on Fridays). Following my father’s lead I too would shake ample amounts of oregano onto my delicious slices.  For years I had no idea the versatility that oregano had to offer, atop my pizza and in red sauce were really the only places where it made an appearance.  (In fact, pizza and red sauce is actually how oregano gained popularity in the US.  As World War II ended and soldiers returned home from Europe, they came home with a newly acquired taste for the seasoning in these famous dishes. And it has worked its way up the culinary ranks – today oregano is the largest selling culinary herb in the United States!)

Like many herbs and spices, oregano has its place in history.  In Greek mythology the mighty and beautiful Aphrodite is said to have invented oregano and given it to man to make for a happier life.  The Greek physician Hippocrates embraced oregano for its medicinal properties; its medicinal uses have continued throughout history and today its oil is still used as an effective topical agent for bug bites and is a home remedy for toothaches.

And of course it has culinary roots…

Oregano has been used for thousands of years flavoring vegetables, meat and fish and is an herb widely recognized in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine.  When we daydream about dishes from these wonderful regions it is the wild aroma of oregano that lingers in the air.  Sometimes I think that

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oregano has special powers. Not only is it bursting with antioxidants (we are talking four times more than blueberries!), but is it an herb that is truly wonderful both fresh and dried – and is one of the only herbs that chefs prize in both its fresh and dried variety.  Sprinkled on scrambled eggs, Greek salad, in Mexican posole or a grilled cheese, oregano is like fairy dust, making dishes magical.

Working at Oldways has taught me a lot about traditional diets and the roles herbs and spices play in flavoring foods, using them instead of salt, they have a way of taking dishes to a place that I never knew they could go!  One of my favorite fall side dishes has to be roasted potatoes with oregano, alongside other vegetables or a side with a lovely roast chicken.

Here’s another way to discover oregano’s versatility.  Serve this tangy dip at your next party and ask your friends to guess what’s in it!

Potato-Oregano Dip
This dip will keep for a week in the refrigerator.  Serve with raw veggies or toasted baguette slices.

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup capers
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup mashed potatoes

Directions:
Put the bread crumbs in a medium bowl, cover with cold water, and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain in a strainer. Press down on them with a large kitchen spoon to squeeze out most of the water.

Combine the wet crumbs and the garlic in a food processor and blend for 1 minute to form a thick paste. Add the lemon juice, oregano, walnuts, and capers and blend for several seconds more. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and stir in the mashed potatoes. (The mixture will become unpleasantly gluey if you put the potatoes in the food processor.)

Refrigerate for several hours, ideally overnight, before serving. If the dip becomes too thick after chilling, thin it with several tablespoons of water.

 

-Rachel


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