On my last trip to Greece a few years ago, at nearly every meal we had a plate of ‘Horta’, which are basically boiled greens, served with olive oil, salt and lemon juice.
Doesn’t sound very exciting but I really loved this dish accompanied by various Mezze dishes (Greek tapas) and a good dollop of garlicky Tzatziki dip.
The horta could be any type of greens, ideally bitter wild weeds or even spinach can be used. In the villages mostly likely the leaves are foraged in fields – rarely bought from markets.
My partner remembers excursions with his parents (when he was growing up), foraging for weeds in the outskirts of Sydney to make Horta.
When I ask E’s mum what kind of plants they use, she shrugs and says weeds !
I’ve tried various greens to make my horta. My local Greek grocer often has a plant called Vlita (which is also known as Amaranth). It has green/purple type leaves.
I’ve tried chicory, which didn’t really work for me. Too bitter for my taste, and the stalks too thick. They must be cooked for a long time.
I’ve tried beetroot leaves. Beetroot leaves are excellent, and taste very similar to spinach.
On the weekend, on a trip to Flemington fruit and vegetable markets, I found bunches of what the stall holders called ‘thistle’.
When I got home I found that the thistle bunch had tiny little yellow flowers, which I identified as Dandelion. I am sure this is one of the greens that I had in Greece … and is what E’s mum calls ‘weeds’.
After washing well, I removed the thick stems and separated the stalks. I placed the leaves in a large saucepan and filled with water and boiled. You need to boil for around 10 minutes. The leaves will cook very quickly, but you need to cook long enough so that the stalks are soft. This removes a lot of the excess bitterness from the stalks.
Once cooked, remove and drain. Sprinkle the Horta with salt, a good drizzle with Greek extra virgin olive oil and had a squeeze of lemon juice.
Serve the Horta at room temperature.
From a nutritional perspective, we know that dark greens are very alkalising, are a good source of iron and the squeeze of lemon juice helps the vitamins and minerals to be absorbed by the body. Making Horta from a bitter green is also nutritionally superior and Dandelion roots and leaves are said to assist with balancing blood sugar levels.