Savory, It Is Big In Bulgaria
Garden or summer savory and mountain or winter savory are relatives of the mint family. They both have a flavor that is somewhere between thyme and mint. Both summer and winter savory have very bold flavors and so must be used with discretion. Summer is the most popular with chefs because it has the mildest flavor of the two. Winter savory is now seldom used.
Because of its favorable reaction when combined with others, savory is often mixed with other herbs. It is used in vegetables, beans, lentils, bouquet garni, eggs, stuffing, condiments, hamburger, gravy, soup mixes, and in spice blends of the Mediterranean such as herbes de Provence. Summer savory is also used in sausage making.
The major producers of savory are France and the Balkan States. The Yugoslavian variety is considered the best culinarily. It is arguably most important in Bulgarian cuisine, providing a strong and pungent flavor for the most simple to the most extravagant recipes. Instead of salt and pepper, a Bulgarian table will have three condiments: salt, paprika, and savory. When these are mixed it is called sharena sol (colorful salt).
Savory displays a certain pungent taste. This pungency is why savory has been used as a substitute for black pepper, intended for those who have to avoid pepper for medical reasons. Savory was used by the Romans before the first lots of true pepper were imported from India.
Despite savory’s similarities to thyme, in both flavor and texture, its applications are quite the opposite. It is rarely used for meats, but mostly for vegetables. Savory is most often used for legumes, especially dishes prepared from dried lentils or beans, where it aids in digestion. Because of its strong affinity to legumes in general and beans in particular, savory makes a good alternative for the herb epazote called for in some Hispanic bean recipes, if epazote is unavailable. (Epazote is probably the biggest up and comer in the Hispanic cuisine.) Savory also works very well in mushroom dishes.
Savory is no stranger to commercial spice mixtures for sausages, pâtés or pickles. Though not obligatory, it is often part of the Southern France spice mixture herbes de Provence, and it is found in most versions of Georgian khmeli-suneli (a mixture of 11 herbs). It is quite a popular culinary herb in Germany and is often used in German versions of bouquet garni.
If you find yourself without savory, sweet marjoram is a good substitute.