Friday, November 29, 2013

Easy greens

One of the real pleasures of having Greek neighbours is occasionally tasting their wonderful home cooking. Our neighbour Katerina is a champion baker of biscuits and maker of dolmades, but a while ago she taught Pam how to cook their traditional dish of mixed greens, called horta, and gave us a container of it to try. 

Horta is just boiled mixed greens dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, and it's wonderful. As a result of Katerina's introduction, I bought some chicory seeds and have been waiting these last couple of months for it to get to the size when we can start harvesting leaves for making our own home-grown horta.

Here's the Chicory 'Spadona' ready to harvest.
I took only half the leaves from each plant, and
as well as the Spadona variety I have another
planted, with more serrated leaves.

Quite a mouthful of a name, Cicoria Catalogna Puntarelle
Brindisina. Both seed packets came from the online seed
retailer, The Italian Gardener, whose prices and generous
seed packets seem very good value to me.

While Katerina says she uses chicory for her
horta, she says you can use any leafy greens
you like. Traditional horta made in Greek
villages often uses a mix of wild greens harvested
in the fields, by roadsides or wherever they are
found. Pictured above is another terrific leafy
green we have growing here. It's called
perpetual spinach. I bought it as a seedling
and it just grows and re-grows. We have
harvested leaves from it many times, and it
just grows more leaves in response each time.
One growing tip if you want to try it: it can cope
with a bit of shade, and it hates hot afternoon
sun, so plant it somewhere that fits that bill.

The nice thing about cooking horta is that it's so easy and the amounts are flexible, and the ingredients are basically "whatever leafy greens you have at hand". Though the modern trend with cooking many vegies is to steam them, horta is an old-fashioned method where you boil the greens briefly, then dress them in olive oil and lemon juice, and that's about it. Here's how I did it last night.

We harvested about 500g of leaves, mostly chicory but about
a dozen perpetual spinach tossed in as well. Wash well, drain,
don't worry about cutting off stems unless damaged or brown,
then roughly chop the lot.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, then add the
washed and chopped greens. Let them boil gently for 20 minutes.
Drain the cooked greens in a colander.
I'm sure that all the Greek cooks who make
horta just drizzle and squeeze, but as a
beginner I used two tablespoons of extra
virgin olive oil and one tablespoon of
freshly squeezed, home-grown, lemon
juice. Add salt and ground black pepper
to taste and mix it all into the greens.
Horta is rarely served piping hot. It gains flavour when just
warm, and it chills in the fridge and reheats very well, too.
Who says potato salad has to have mayonnaise? Mine included
home-grown shallots (green onions) and finely chopped radish,
but alas the kipfler spuds weren't home-grown.
And this being a Greek dish, we had lamb
(cutlets), flavoured with garlic and home-grown
rosemary and lemon juice.
Our first experiment with horta has changed my mind about what I am growing in our vegie garden. Chicory and perpetual spinach are so easy and prolific to grow, and cooking them is so easy that I think I'll make space for them on a permanent basis from now on, as popping outside to get the greens for dinner is such an easy and pleasurable thing to do.  


L from 500m2 in Sydney said...

That looks delicious. I've never tried chicory, so I should give it a go. Recently I've been blanching vegetables in heavily salted water at a rolling boil. They come out perfectly seasoned and totally delicious. I know (as you say) that steaming is the trend, but I think it's over-rated.

Sari said...

I think it would be nice with some Parmesan grated over, too.