When it comes to Greek food, I didn’t know that spinach and silverbeet are not the only greens that may be layered with feta between sheets of filo pastry. And I certainly didn’t know that the prolific weeds that are growing luxuriantly in our garden might be harvested and eaten!
For many years I lived in parts of Melbourne with thriving expatriot Greek communities, alongside numerous second-generation Greek Aussie friends. I have very fond memories of my time working at George and Costa’s wedding venue, and dancing in circles (or slapping my ankles) with generous old people** at the corner pub that has long since been hipsterfied. And I have eaten a lot of Greek food.
But I was not aware, until very recently, that there is a healthy tradition of “prickle picking” in Greek cuisine.
It’s such a sensible and thrifty idea to eat whatever greens are available, and certainly during times of food shortage it may have been the only option for many Greek people. The word in Greek is “Horta”, or χόρτα, which translates as weeds or wild grasses, and it is a catch-all term to describe both the plants and the simple dish prepared with them. Thus, a vegetarian in Greece is apparently known as a “weed eater“! I believe that they are as nutritious as more mainstream leafy greens (the weeds, not the vegetarians), but I suppose that depends upon which ones you are eating. More detail about the types of weed to look for can be found here.
Once I had verified that dandelions are a safe option (and conviced my fellow diner of the same), I simply cut leaves from around the backyard and washed them thoroughly. I boiled them for a few minutes then drizzled them with olive oil and lemon juice, with a pinch of salt. It’s my kind of recipe.
But the verdict? Mmm. Too bitter. Next time I would aim for small leaves only, perhaps boil them for longer, and maybe attempt a more complex recipe (such as the pie described here) to balance out the flavours. In any case, I will definitely attempt to turn my scraggly weeds into a tasty “horta” dish again.
*More than once I have had a conversation over a glass of ouzo along these lines:
“No, my background is mostly Irish.”
“Oh.” (Shrug) “S’the same.”