Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Horta (Steamed Greens with
Fresh Lemon Juice and Olive Oil)


The word for "vegetarian" in Greek is "hortofagos", which literally translates to "weed eater". Yes, very funny, but I kid you not. This may explain why Greek non-vegetarians like my dad's neighbour in Limnos thinks that I should be able to eat rabbit because rabbits eat grass. I know, there's no real logic to that but no more illogical than thinking vegetarians eat weeds.

Ironically, on just about every Greek restaurant menu you will find a dish called "Horta", which is simply a bowl of steamed or boiled weeds enjoyed by many a Greek person, vegetarian or not.

So perhaps "weed eater" is a more respectable label than it sounds?

To add to the irony however, many Greek menus that provide English translations will often use the term "Green stuff" as the actual translation for Horta, and I don't think they are trying to be funny. It's all just so delightfully Greek :)


But yes, "horta" literally means weeds (or more romantically, "wild mountain greens") that are indigenous to Greece's countryside including wild spinach, fennel leaves, nettles, poppy leaves, dandelions, purslane, amaranth, beetroot leaves and many, many more. Driving around the Greek countryside you'll often see old women bent over with their baskets collecting these wild greens from the paddocks.

Now many people might cringe at the thought of eating a big bowl full of green stuff, but eaten cold out of the fridge drizzled with fresh lemon juice and olive oil truly is one of the most refreshing summer treats. I could easily eat a whole bowl of it, and often do. It's also one of the easiest salads to make.

You can use a mixture of any greens you like, or just one variety. I used the big bunch of silver beet that came in my veggie box delivery. Sometimes I make horta with just spinach leaves. Any greens will do, as long as you add lemon and olive oil – these ingredients change everything! It's mouth-wateringly amazing how well lemon juice goes with cooked greens. Not only that, but the lemon juice helps your body absorb the iron from beautiful green leafy vegetables.

Horta (Steamed Greens with Fresh Lemon Juice and Olive Oil)


Makes 3–4 serves (or one if you can manage a whole bowl to yourself like I do!)

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of greens (e.g. spinach, silver beet or any other edible green leaves/weeds)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of your best extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Steam or boil the greens until tender.
  2. Drain and transfer immediately to a large bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process and keep the leaves bright green.
  3. Drain again, place in a medium-sized bowl and toss in olive oil.
  4. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  5. Squeeze lemon juice over Horta just before serving, and season to taste with salt and pepper.



20 comments:

  1. I only started eating horta after becoming vegan. My mum makes it a lot.I remember walking home from high school once and seeing two elderly people with big plastic bags picking weeds in a vacant lot and thinking "what are those crazy old people doing??" then realised they were my grandparents :)

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    1. Haha it's funny the things we observe but don't quite realise what we're actually looking at! And I love that the older generation are way past caring what other people think they're up to! They do as they please and that's wonderful.

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  2. I remember when I was younge we used to call the crazy old people collecting wild Weeds, "Prickle pickers". Now, after having tried horta, I see that they knew something all along that we didn't. It is not only very healthy, but as you mention, very refreshing...

    James

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    1. "Prickle pickers" I love that!! How funny! But why is it that only old people do this?? Perhaps Tony and I need to put some of this prickle picking in action next time we're in Limnos. Thanks for dropping by James!

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  3. I never liked silverbeet as a kid and used to pick it from the garden and feed it to our guinea pigs so I didn't have to eat it, but now I love it, particularly steamed. Will definitely be trying it with lemon and olive oil next time!

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    1. Oh how many vegetables we hated as kids but love now as adults. Especially the green ones!

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  4. I love horta and especially the wild bitter ones that you find in uncultivated fields. I live in chicago now, after 35 years in melbourne , but i can relate to your story about people gathering horta in paddocks , my father would collect the biggest garbage possible of horta at the bottom of doncaster road, during the time they were digging up the area for the extension of the eastern highway - are you with me on that one ..... LOL

    i personally enjoy them , like you cold , with a slab of briny crumbly feta ( greek of course) , lemon juice , good olive oil and a little slice of horiatiko bread - never hurt .

    and if you want to one up the health factor - drink the water that you cooked the horta in - especially if it is "radikia" the wild and bitter dandelions . i dont overcook my horta i like them with a little bite to them - so you collect the "juice" let it get cold , then pour into a glass with a squeeze of fresh lemon - nirvana !!!
    this only works with "agria horta" the old timers say .

    just recently discovered your blog through pinterest - and i am really enjoying the recipes . albeit i am not a truly fledged vegetarian , i truly believe the authentic greek kouzina offers somes of the best vegetarian dishes , add to that the benefits of the mediterranean diet and i feel it is a win win situation !

    keep up the good work, your blog is now a daily read for me

    cheers
    dimitra

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    1. Thank you for such a lovely long comment Dimitra - your stories relate so well with me! I can just imagine your father rummaging around the excavation works on Doncaster road! My partner Tony grew up in Tullamarine in the 70s when the area was still mainly paddocks and he remembers the horta gatherers with their garbage bags!

      And thanks for all the great tips! I haven't tried horta with feta - I can definitely see how those flavours would work perfectly together though. Chilled horta juice with lemon sounds pretty good too!

      Great to see you here all the way from Chicago! I'm really thrilled you're enjoying my blog. xx

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    2. I should add that when you cook your horta , this only works for radikia , i tend to use the same cooking water to boil batch after batch - that way you concentrate the flavour .... sorry forgot to add that vital point :-))

      cheers
      gg

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  5. Horta is the Greek version of gold in the food chain! I used to detest them as a child and now can never get enough! I just wish I could identify the ones that the grandparents could spot from miles away! Greta post Lisa!

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    1. Yes, greens went golden for me too once I grew out of that "I hate vegetables" phase. Oh how different things are these days! And how DO the grands find those special greens in amongst all the long grass and rubbish? Hawk-eyes they are :)

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  6. What a lovely, simple dish! I've got to pull out my mustard greens soon before I start planting for spring, so maybe I'll try making this. :) I do love green stuff!

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    1. Yay for the green stuff!! Yes, mustard greens would give it a beautiful pepperiness. And perhaps adding some rocket/arugula or sorrel to intensify the flavours.. Yum!

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  7. when i was in greece, i became friends with a greek woman who would take me and my husband to restaurants and order for us. so, i have tried horta! i remember our australian friends that were with us saying that it tasted like weeds. but i loved it!! i'm excited to try making it with your recipe ;)

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    1. Oh this is the best – and despite the name, horta doesn't taste like weeds at all :) It's amazing what a squeeze of lemon juice can do for the green stuff!

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  8. That is good to know. I too was drinking Removing blackheads water until I was informed that it was bad for my enamel. I guess I have to dilute it even further to enjoy the benefits. I also learned that lemon juice added to green tea also boost the levels of anti-oxidants or some other goodies available in green tea.

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    1. Sounds like the green stuff is good stuff in all its forms! Interesting to know that lemon juice also boosts the goodness of green tea!

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  9. Hi, love your blog, and I love horta too. I live in Marrickville, Sydney, with the same Greek neighbours either side for the last 22 years. I'm a gardener and I love cooking what I grow, and this year I'm growing chicory and plan to make home-grown horta the way Katerina next door showed me not so long ago. But your blog adds a bit more confidence. I'll be back!

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    1. Hi Jamie! Right now we are in Greece on holiday and I have to say that horta is my absolute favourite thing to eat at the moment! Here in Limnos they use curly endive and something my aunt Koula calls "vlita". Your chicory will make a wonderful horta :) I'm sure Katerina has given you some very good tips!

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  10. I bet this meal would make you feel super refreshed and good about yourself, thanks for sharing!

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