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March 15, 2009

Oregano (Recipe: "poor little eggplants") {vegan, gluten-free}

Adapted from an archived post, with new photos, links and recipe.

Oregano eggplant

In the 1960s, I was in high school, and I was cool.

I had long hair, bell-bottom pants, love beads. I listened to Phil Ochs, played guitar, marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. I edited the school newspaper, where I published Lawrence Ferlinghetti poems and artsy photos of trees.

On Saturdays, I worked at a "real" job on the city's big-time newspaper, where I learned to write obituaries and a consumer help column ("My clothes dryer exploded and the store where I bought it won't take it back. Can you help?").

And I smoked oregano. Once.

A friend gave it to me as a joke, and we decided to try it. (I admit that I tried the other stuff, too, and yes, I inhaled.)

If I'd been a cook, instead of a trying-to-be-hip high school kid, I would have put that oregano to much better use.

Common oregano (o. vulgare), a member of the mint family, is native to the Mediterranean region, which explains its popularity in Italian and Greek cuisine; in fact, the word oregano comes from Greek, and means "joy of the mountain." Often confused with marjoram (o. majorana), oregano is a hardy perennial that thrives in my New England herb garden. It's grown for its leaves, which are peppery and strong-tasting.

Oregano1

Of the many varieties of oregano, the ones I use most often in my cooking are common oregano, and Mexican. Local Middle Eastern markets, as well as Penzeys online, sell Turkish oregano (sometimes called black, because of its dark colored leaves), which is even more peppery than the common variety.

Both fresh and dried oregano are available year-round in most supermarkets, and you can dry or freeze your home-grown or store-bought fresh oregano to savor during the winter months. To substitute dried oregano for fresh, use half the amount called for in the recipe.

Oregano pairs well with most vegetables: beans, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash. Why not try it in chicken with almonds, olives and oregano, creamy zucchini soup, calamari pizza with goat cheese, lemon-oregano salmon skewers, and tomato and feta panini?

According to folklore, oregano can encourage good luck, and repel snakes -- two attributes that seem to be related.

Oreganoeggplant2

"Poor little eggplants"

Last week some friends got together to cook a menu of recipes adapted from Adventures of an Italian Food Lover, by Faith Heller Willinger. The eggplant lovers among us were swooning over this simple dish, which we made with purple striped Southeast Asian hybrid eggplant from my local supermarket. If you can find the thin Japanese eggplant, use those instead. Serves 8.

Ingredients

4-5 small, elongated purple striped eggplant or Japanese eggplant (no more than 2 inches in diameter)
6 garlic cloves, sliced
3 Tbsp fresh or dried (but not old) oregano
2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Directions

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Slice the eggplants lengthwise. Remove the stem end. Score the cut surface with a sharp knife, making parallel diagonal incisions in one direction, and then the other, to create a diamond pattern.

In a baking pan large enough to hold all of the eggplant in one layer, combine the garlic, oregano, salt, oil and vinegar. Place the eggplant cut side down into the pan, to get well coated with the seasonings, then turn them right side up. Immediately place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender and just starting to brown on top. Serve hot or at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Garlic eggplant
Moroccan eggplant salad
Turkey tacos
Caponata
Posole

Comments

The L.A.Times food section had an article on oregano this week, which pointed out the vast number of varieties, quoting one expert, Rutgers University biologist James E. Simon to say that oregano was more "a flavor and aroma rather than an individual plant."

I must confess, this is probably my favorite way to enjoy eggplant- simply roasted with olive oil, garlic and herbs. They have such a smoky sweetness. I wish I could find the lovely Japanese variety more often around here. So good!

To substitute dried oregano for fresh, use half the amount called for in the recipe.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Is this a thumb in hand rule for all herbs/spices or just for the big O??

That story is too funny! As is "the eggplant lovers among us..." I'm always amazed at what a divisive vegetable eggplant is. Not surprising... yours looks delicious, and if this couldn't turn around your non-eggplant-loving friends, I don't know what would.

Now I know why your posts are always so entertaining. You've had writing in your blood for a while now.

I love the translation, "joy of the mountain." I wonder if that name came from smoking it, or cooking with it? :-) Glad to know about the properties of good luck and the ability to repel snakes, since I used quite a bit yesterday. I feel confident that for the moment, my kitchen will be snake-free!

I love all this great info about oregano.

So... ummm... what happened when you smoked the oregano? LOL!

Paz

ooh we're getting a bit confessional around here, aren't we? :D Certainly makes for a good story.

I love bell bottom trousers, long hair and beads! As far as I'm concerned, you guys were onto something therre!

That looks delicious! I love eggplants, and this fresh Italian preparation is perfect for summer!
I grow my own...oregano that is. And I dry it - but it doesn't look anything like the jarred stuff (which smells a bit like pencil shavings) any idea why?
Also, even though I grow different kinds, it seems to be pretty mild in it's dry state. (I use a dehydrator)

Did you have hotpants?

I never smoked oregano, only cigarettes...and I loved it.

Those little eggplants sound awesome.

Mmmmm... this sounds wonderful!

love this post - many people miss how delicious and easy eggplant can be, this recipe is a keeper, thanks! and oregano? really? smoked? never tried that one - you are one adventurous rebel!

That eggplant looks good!

Oh, what a beautiful recipe! Definitely a keeper, for farmer's market time.
I had heard a long time ago that pre-boiling beans with oregano keeps down the gassiness, so I do it automatically now. Had you ever heard that?

Activated charcoal... I heard it works, but pre-boiling beans with or without oregano is still beans, so... but it is interesting.
Anyway great recipe, I really think I can do this one.

I grow about 6 different kinds of oregano and will use the different types depending on the application. And when I think eggplant my mind automatically goes to oregano. To be honest it is my "go to" spice because it pairs so well with so many of the foods I eat.

Lydia - I must say that your blog is my favorite food blog. Not just because of the way you treat the subject of a food ingredient or a recipe (the stories you tell are the best) but I also love the fact that you make your blog so interactive. I'm not in your kitchen but somehow I am at the same time.

I am always excited to see a new blog posting from you.

Mae, that's a great way to think of oregano, as a flavor family. Thanks.

Susan, the thin Japanese eggplant are a bit elusive around here, too. I love them because they're virtually seedless. The striped eggplant were not as delicate, but were totally delicious n this recipe.

Milton, it's a good rule of thumb. 1 tsp of fresh herb = 1/2 tsp of dried.

Julia, even Ted is not that crazy about eggplant, but when it's prepared simply and not undercooked, it's irresistible.

Joan, writing is one of the two things I've always been able to do. The other is organizing. Everything else is just a matter of luck!

TW, nothing like a snake-free kitchen to increase your cooking pleasure! Isn't "joy of the mountain" a beautiful name?

Paz, as I recall, nothing much happened, to our great disappointment.

Maninas, we wanted so much to be real hippies, but at 16 we had to settle for looking like hippies!

Natashya, same here, the oregano from my garden doesn't look much like what I buy dried. (Of course I think it's much more flavorful, too.) There are lots of different varieties of oregano, and I can't grow them all in my climate zone; perhaps that's what accounts for the differences. Using the dehydrator is a great idea. I don't have one, so I use my drying screen.

Noble Pig, I definitely did not have the legs for hotpants! (Still don't.)

Michele, Kevin: it really is delicious. Try it!

Annie, I was a crazy teenager, in some respects...

Katrina, I haven't heard that about oregano. I've heard that epazote does that for black beans, and of course baking soda with chickpeas. Does it seem to work for you?

Monica, I agree, beans are beans. But if oregano has some magical powers, I'd love to know about it.

Kim, thanks so much for your lovely comment. I'm so grateful to you, and to all of my readers who take the time to leave notes, for me or for each other. You are what makes The Perfect Pantry perfect.


Hmmmm...now there's a use for oregano I hadn't thought of!! I was decidedly uncool in high school, though :-) I like the sound of this eggplant - great flavors.

I love eggplant, this recipe sounds so easy and flavorful, yum!

I get a kick out of the fact that you've smoked oregano. And the other stuff ;o)


It sounds like you were cooler than I was as a teenager!

Kathy, Maris: I think I was cooler in high school than I am now....

Jason, this really is an easy way to prepare eggplant, and the presentation is beautiful, too.

smoked oregano? really? interesting!! i use it in all my food! great stuff here! as an adult, i've come to be very affectionate with eggplant. so darn good!

Funny....No one ever suggested smoking oregano. We only smoked other things. And inhaled. ;-)

But anything that's prepared this simply with the freshest ingredients absolutely HAS to be delicious!

I have an aunt-in-law who worked for many years in the kitchen for Harvard. She told me when they cooked "shish kabob" they only marinated the beef or lamb in olive oil and TONs of Oregano. I tried it last summer. I added a splash of red wine vinager and a little S&P but really just oil and TONS of Oregano. (like a 1/2 cup of dried O to 2-3lbs) Marinated beef over night and grilled. BEST EVER! who knew you didn't need all those fancy marinades afterall.

Lydia, you have to try the Greek oregano from my garden (dried). We brought some seed back, it's a perennial and a must for Greek cooking.

What else did you try in the 60's? ;)

Bren, I didn't learn to love eggplant until I was an adult, either. In fact, I really don't remember my mother cooking it.

Toni, high school was a funny place in the 60s. When I think about some of the silly things we did, because we just wanted to grow up a bit faster... well, it still makes me laugh.

Carol, what a great suggestion for cooking beef on the grill. I have a few oregano plants in my herb garden, so I'll try this during the summer when I can harvest that much oregano!

Peter, would love to try your Greek oregano. And as for what else we did in the 60s, can't tell you more here on this family-friendly blog!

I feel so silly when I have a cook book I've poured over it, cooked many times from it and then bang . . . I can't believe I missed this one. Must fix this when we get back from our travels.

Hi Lydia,
Your eggplant looks delicious! I haven't visited for a while, but I'm glad I did.

I laughed hard about the oregano. And, yep, I remembered that I tried smoking it too. My mother was in the house cooking with it and I was outside rolling it.

Didn't know anyone else had ever done this (could add this too 7 random things?). It made me so sick ... once was enough. I thought I was cool, but what a goofball I was. I would not recommend this. :-)

MyKitchen, I've been digging deeper into this book and find little gems everywhere.

Meg, so nice to hear from you! And you're right -- smoking oregano was awful, and I never did it again. But I laugh when I think about it now.

OhBoy, OhBoy!
Not only do I absolutely LOVE oregano, but I have been searching for new eggplant recipes.
Thanks so much!

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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