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May 02, 2011

HERBivores unite!

It is May! And may I say it is the best time to plant a garden outside. If you have limited time and do not wish to fuss with vegetables, plant herbs.

With each bite you will appreciate every little leaf or sprig of fresh herb for they take your cooking to a next level. They are not only an olfactory fantasy but a treat for your taste buds. Easy to grow, most of them are perennials, but when not, you can harvest the seeds for the next gardening year, or to use as spices.

You can use herbs in jillion of recipes, savory and sweet alike. Needless to say that eating fresh herbs will benefit you in many ways: boost your immune system, can cure ailments and conditions, and simply enrich your overall health.

Today in my garden and on my plate is oregano—the bright star of Mediterranean and Spanish cuisines. We are quite familiar with a pungent woody taste of its dried version in pizza and spaghetti sauces. But while using dry oregano during winter I surely enjoy it fresh from the garden all spring and summer long.

Growing wild in the mountains of Greece, oregano can root deeply almost anywhere as long as its leaves get plenty of sunshine. Dormant during the cold season, it is the first one to wake up in my garden. It is filled with goodness (from the web): {the leaves and flowering stems are strongly antiseptic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, expectorant—I make tea by steeping 1 T spoon of dry oregano in 8 oz of boiling water for 3 minutes to soothe coughs—stimulant and mildly tonic}

I stumbled upon this lovely legend about oregano and I'd like to share it:
{A young servant to Cinyras, the king of Cyprus, was carrying a large vessel full of valuable perfume oils which the king was very fond of. He dropped the container by accident, spilling its content. The servant boy was so afraid of what his punishment would be that he fainted, and while lying unconscious on the ground where the oil had spilled, he turned into the oregano plant.}

I grow two kinds of oregano: Greek, with hairy, thicker leaves and Spanish, with smoother, thinner leaves. However, over the years of growing side by side the two mixed up and now it's hard to tell which is which. So I use them both together.

When using oregano, strip the leaves to chop and add to your savory dish. You can compost the stems, or use them to cook pasta and rice—just add the stems to water where you cook your favorite carbs, or use them when making a soup stock.

Oregano is at home with vegetable dishes as well as meat, poultry and fish, and dairy! Just don't overdo—then it turns bitter.

I'm sharing a simple marinade made with fresh oregano and complimenting it garlic. Use this marinade for grilled chicken, shrimp or even as salad dressing. You would need mortar and pestle to crush the fresh ingredients to release their essential oils. I love using this gadget, it feels so primal!

My brother came from Russia and brought a special treat from our region—smoked mata kway (milk cheese). So I used my oregano marinade to make this cheese snack. You can use any smoked soft cheese, such as smoked gouda.
The smoky flavor of cheese, the deep fresh flavor of oregano and the piquant kick of garlic flavor really sing in unison for this simple dish.
Oregano Marinated Smoked Cheese
Handful fresh oregano (leaves and stems)=1 cup, washed and dried
1 glove of garlic, peeled
1 t spoon coarse sea salt
1 t spoon black peppercorns
1 small dried chili
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

16 oz smoked soft cheese
  • Combine oregano, garlic, salt, peppercorns and chili in a mortar and press with pestle until all the oils are released and it is all well mushed.
  • Transfer to a small mixing bowl and all the oil, whisk it together to combine.
  • Cut cheese into 1˝ cubes, pour marinade over and toss to cover completely.
  • Serve as a snack or a side dish.
Grow your herbs, eat your herbs, be a HERBivore! (stay tuned for more herbilicilous ideas)

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