Oregano (Recipe: "poor little eggplants")
Adapted from an archived post, with new photos, links and recipe.
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.
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.
"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.
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
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.