As I wrote last week, I'm back in Greece right now, working, catching up with friends, and trying to spend as much time as I can with my ailing mom. It's a recipe for a lot of reminiscing over childhood memories.
My dad passed away a few years ago and he had a life well-lived. He spent his last years happily tending to a small vegetable garden that made all our typical summer dishes so delicious: fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants, peppers. He also planted plenty of herbs: parsley, dill, fennel, rosemary, marjoram, spearmint, thyme and, of course, oregano.
Oregano really is the star of Greek cooking, and the herb many visitors remember the most. They see it growing wild throughout Greece and find its strong taste and aroma everywhere - I'll bet that Greek salad you loved on vacation was topped with a lot of oregano! We put oregano in everything, from our omnipresent salad, to scrambled eggs, grilled chops, meatballs, fish, even on fried potatoes (have you tried the fries at any of the Greek Festivals here in the States?!).
While everyone associates Greek food with oregano, the reality is that there are so many fresh and dried herbs that are an integral part of our cuisine and have so many unique benefits. A hike in the Greek countryside, especially in the late spring, away from highways and civilization, will reveal so many of those herbs to you. You'll find people gathering them to infuse in teas for their traditional medicinal values - marjoram for headaches, mint and fennel seeds to ease digestion, thyme for colds.
Herbs are a powerful ally in Greek cooking, bringing health and flavor to any dish. My cousin is lucky, he still tends to my dad's garden, even after all these years, and doesn't have to go out to the countryside for fresh herbs...and my kids can still enjoy the summer veggies that remind them of their papoú. Every day my cousin brings us the latest batch and as any of you gardeners will know, there is nothing like a truly vine-ripened tomato! We just cooked stuffed tomatoes and peppers the other day and added tons of fresh parsley, dill and spearmint, a real feast, and it felt so fresh and healthy!
I miss the intensity of these flavors when I get home, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to bring to the States Sparoza's handcrafted cooking blends. So many of my favorites are in Efi Ekmetzoglou's herb and spice mixes and the smells take me back to my childhood. I love how she blends them with her secret touch and she's made magic with teas, too...but for now I'll count my blessings and continue to enjoy the wonders of my father's garden.
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