Spice of Life: Oregano
- Category: Herbs, Oils & Spices
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Arabic: Za’ater, Bardaquoosh, Marw
Russian: Душица, Dushitsa
German: Oregano, Wilder Majoran
Oregano is a perennial growing to 20 inches, with small flowers and spade-shaped, olive-green leaves. There are more than 40 different types of oregano, but mainly in Egypt. It prefers a hot, relatively dry climate, but will do well in other environments. To cultivate, it should be planted in early spring, in fairly dry soil, with full sun. Closely related to the herb marjoram, oregano is also known as wild marjoram. The word "oregano" is from Greek - derived and translated means "Joy of the Mountain". It is commonly eaten with bread, dipped in olive oil and then za'ater.
In Arabic, za'ater can be used to refer to many herbs in the thyme-marjoram-oregano-savory family. Za’ater is also the name of a spice mixture used commonly in all Middle Eastern cuisine. Here in Egypt, if you ask for za’ater, it is most likely dried and crushed oregano with some salt and other spices. In the Levant, there is a belief that za'ater makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za'ater sandwich for breakfast before an exam or before school.
In ancient Egypt oregano was used as both a preservative and an antidote to poison. For culinary uses sweet marjoram is the mildest of all species. It is somewhat interchangeable with oregano. Just remember oregano is stronger, and to use less if the recipe calls for marjoram.
Homemade Za’ater Recipe
(can be adjusted to taste):
1/2 cup best-quality dried thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sesame seeds