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Friday, 19 December 2008

Psares (Ψαρές)

Here's a salad green I haven't had in a long while. In Crete, we call it 'psares' (ψαρές), meaning 'whiskers', because of the curly tendrils growing out of the leaves and stem of the plant. Its scientific name is Lathyrus ochrus, a member of the pea family. It is often called chickling, vetch or pale pea. It is sold in large bunches for a euro, and is always used raw as a salad, with a vinegary taste. It can be eaten like lettuce, with a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt, or added to another tasty salad as I have done (with kohlrabi, carrot and olives, flavoured with balsamic vinegar), taking the place of lettuce.

Psares are commonly eaten during fasting periods in the Greek Orthodox church. The forty days before Christmas are included among these fasting periods, even though it isn't so common nowadays for people to fast the whole 40-day period. Although not considered a festive green, it's commonly eaten, mainly by those who grow it, in the period preceding Christmas. Its growing season is long; I've seen it in fields in March, meaning that it's also eaten before Easter during the Great Lent.

psares and kohlrabi salad

Psares are available right throughout the winter at the open-air markets in my town and the fresh counters in the local supermarket. They are grown locally, but not commonly found in meals. Believe it or not, this slightly bitter green makes a significant contribution to the daily diet: it contains 140mg of vitamin C in 100g of fresh product, where an orange has about 50mg per 100g. Stamnagathi, one of my favorite winter greens, contains a mere 27mg per 100g of fresh product. Psares also contain high amounts of Vitamin K (good for the blood), lutein (beneficial for the eyes) and β-carotene (which has many advantages), making them a very useful leafy green in their growing season.

psares psares

A really good site for more information about this and other wild greens of Crete is ASXETOS - use the google translator if you can't read Greek. Psares are also added to a traditional but rather old-fashioned Cretan bean salad (again, you need the google translator).

This is my contribution to the Holiday Herb Blogging event run by Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Haalo herself at Cook almost anything (at least once).

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