Horta – Leafy greens

Horta 2

Blanched edible leafy greens, known as horta, are very much part of any typical Greek table. In the old days they used to com- plement the poor man’s frugal menu of bread, cheese, olives and olive oil, but today they are normally eaten as a salad or a side dish and are considered an essential part of a healthy Greek diet.

Horta can taste sweet, tart or bitter depending on the choice of greens or combination of different greens being used. Personally, I love all types of greens and take pleasure in tasting the different varieties I find at my local farmer’s market every Friday morning. I particularly like rather tangy-tasting horta called almira which, as far as I know, is only available here in Greece and, of course, my friend Eleni’s fabulous sweet summer vlita (leafy Amaranth-Albersia) are truly outstanding. So, when visiting Greece, make sure to taste some of the local seasonal greens.

Delicious almira, at my local farmer's market

However, if you live outside Greece, try blanching fresh spinach with other leafy greens available in your part of the world and  enjoy them Greek-style with lots of aromatic, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice (see Latholemono recipe).

Outside Greece, my personal favourite combinations are as follows:

  • 50 percent spinach mixed with 50 percent bitter and sweet dandelion greens
  • 50 percent spinach mixed with 50 percent escarole, chicory and Swiss chard
  • Spinach mixed with your choice of chicory, escarole, black mustard tops, sorrel and even sometimes red beet stems and leaves.

Cooking horta

Wash leafy greens extremely well, making sure to remove any sand and dirt. Trim and place in a wire basket and blanch or cook by submerging the greens completely in plenty of boiling water for a couple of minutes. Once cooked, make sure to remove the wire basket with leafy greens and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking as overcooked greens will be soggy and tasteless! Drain thoroughly and serve warm or at room temperature with latholemono.

  • The cooking time will vary depending on the type of greens.
  • Boiled greens, just like spinach, wilt and reduce to a fraction of their original quantity when cooked. Normally I count on about ½ kg per person for a very generous serving of greens.

For something different, try sautéing your greens in hot olive oil, possibly with a wee bit of garlic, and then drizzle them with freshly squeezed lemon juice while still warm. Serve as a side dish or, for a truly light and healthy summer meal, place the greens on a large piece of barley rusk, topped with feta cheese and drizzled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil!

Another great favourite: Sauté leafy greens in olive oil with a little garlic or finely chopped onions and then add some chopped peeled tomatoes and capers to taste. Serve this awesome veggie dish with a slice of feta cheese or as a side dish with grilled meat or steamed or grilled white fish. Yummy!

©Chef Karitas – September 2011

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