S couldn’t believe it when I told him that we don’t eat wild greens all that often in the US. “But they’re so healthy – and free!” True, but… well, I don’t know why we don’t. In Greece, they’re practically a staple in the countryside when they’re in season. And with the range of edible greens that grows here, there’s always something in season, year round. You do have to know how to identify them – you can end up with a stomachache or worse if you eat the wrong ones. So for those who don’t know, or who live in the city, it’s best to start by buying them at the farmers’ market, where they are very inexpensive.
There were a few questions on the poppy leaves that I served with the fish and skordalia, so I thought I would show you what wild greens are in season now and how we prepare them. Some of these will be very familiar to you, some others might not be.
Right now, the four kinds that are in season here are endives (antidia / αντίδια in Greek), poppy leaves (paparounes / παπαρούνες), sow thistle (zohos / ζοχός), and wild radicchio (radikia / ραδίκια).
Above: poppy leaves. In traditional Greek folk medicine, these are used as a cough suppressant and a anxiolytic.
Above: sow thistle. These were traditionally used as a galactogogue (to encourage milk production in nursing mothers), as a general antidote for poisons, and for liver problems.
Above: wild radicchio / chicory. These are traditionally used in spleen, liver, and gall bladder problems, and against diabetes.
You need quite a lot to get a portion. For two people, I needed this much:
and that’s only for a side dish! If someone wanted to eat wild greens as a main course, it would be much more than this. But they are best as a side dish, due to their slight bitterness – especially if you’ve never had them before. That’s not to say that I haven’t sometimes made them as a main dish with some crusty bread!
Bring some salted water to a boil.
Plonk them all in together in the water once it’s boiled. Press them down into the water with a wooden spoon and let them cook for a few minutes. After a few minutes, turn them so that the ones on top go to the bottom.
When they’re done, remove them with tongs (don’t pour into a colander to strain – you’ll end up with dirt on your food). If you are concerned about the color, you can put them into cold water to help keep them green; they will brown slightly if you don’t.
The American instinct is to let them cook for 12 seconds and then dunk them in water full of ice cubes. However, the Greek way is to cook them for quite a while (around ten minutes). You don’t get all 9,000,000 vitamins but they are a lot easier on the digestive tract.
If you want the rest of the vitamins, you can drink the cooking water after it cools. It’s supposed to treat all kinds of things. It’s bitter, like all real medicine. Strain it through a coffee filter first so you’re not drinking dirt.
Because I like to buy lemons at the height of the lemon season and freeze the juice, I use lemon ice cubes for this. But you would normally just squeeze some lemon juice over the greens. I put my lemon ice cubes in first so that the hot greens on top melt them quickly.
The lemon juice helps neutralize the bitterness in the greens.
Drizzle a little olive oil, salt, mix it all up, and serve!
I served them alongside a simple summery pasta with zucchini, purple scallions, tomatoes, parsley, and anthotyro.
You probably don’t really need a recipe, but here you go anyway:
Horta | Boiled wild greens endemic to Greece
serves 2 as a side dish
3 bunches endive
3 bunches wild radicchio
6 bunches poppy leaves
4 bunches sow thistle
(total greens: 1.5 colander full)
1 lemon’s juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1. Bring salted water to a boil. Chop off the root ends of the greens.
2. Put the greens together in the boiling water. Press to submerge. Swirl around every few minutes. Boil for about 10 minutes. Lift greens out of water, allowing excess water to drip off, and put in serving dish. (Pass through cold water to maintain color if desired.)
3. Salt; drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.
4. Optional: strain the cooking water through a coffee filter and drink for additional benefits.
I’m not including nutritional information because I couldn’t find it for all these wild greens. However, rest assured that they’re basically calorie-free (although olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon), and full of vitamins and other good stuff!