Friday, 25 May 2012

Cheap 'n'Greek 'n' frugal: Horta

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.

The first plate of horta for the warm season has already been served in our house. In the summer, our garden provides us with ample vlita (amaranth, en anglais), which are always boiled and served with an olive oil and lemon dressing.

The dark green variety of greens on the left is the new one I picked; the other greens are all vlita.

This year's first plate of horta contained an added bonus: I tried a new wild-growing species in our garden. As I was weeding it, my mother-in-law was watching me.

"Hmm, are you going to cook some vlita with that, Maria?"

"Is this edible, Mama."

"This horta? Of course. They're κοβρίδες*. They're just like vlita, only less sweet."

"So can I eat them alone?"

"No, we always cooked them with vlita."

This kind of knowledge you can only gain form old people who have been through much much much much worse than we will ever know.

You need:
Our vlita garden
My newly foraged horta
- as many vlita heads and stalks as you can forage from your plants - cut only the tenderest parts, preferably the off-shoots and topmost of the stem
- one more wild variety of horta, preferably a more bitter one (I usually use stifno - nightshade - but today, I used κοβρίδες*), using 1 part bitter to 2-3 parts sweet horta
- a few small zucchini, boiled (or steamed till tender - generally speaking, Greeks do NOT like their vegetables half-cooked)
a few small potatoes (or you can cut them to size), peeled and boiled (or steamed)
olive oil, lemon juice and salt

The most important aspect involved in foraging greens is to clean them very well. If you suspect that an area is polluted or contaminated in any way, you shouldn't forage there. Whatever you pick must be washed in plenty of rinses of water.

Then, boil some water in a large pot and add the greens. Boil the vlita for about 5 minutes, then change the water (to remove bitterness) and start all over again, boiling for 20-30 minutes without covering the pot. We prefer them soft, but others prefer their horta to be chewy. I like to switch off the element after 20 minutes, cover the pot with a lid and allow the vlita to keep cooking on their own.

All varieties of horta need to be cooked separately, because they have different cooking times. The new variety that I picked on this occasion didn't need much cooking time at all - only 10 minutes, and the stalks were done. NB: Don't boil the potatoes or zucchini in the same water as the horta; they will discolour. Cook the potatoes first, then the zucchini, if you want to use the same water. Never use the same water to cook different varieties of horta - cook each one separately (due to different chemical reactions and toxins).

Arrange all the different horta and vegetables on a plate, or allow eaters to take a heap of whatever they like and arrange their own plates. Provide the dressings for everyone to use on their own plate.

Horta are traditionally served with bread. During a fasting period, they are eaten alone, but if you aren't fasting, you can supplement them with a boiled egg, a piece of cheese, some small fried fresh fish or biftekia (meat patties).

Total cost of the meal for four people: about €2-3, together with the eggs/cheese/fish and bread; about 50-75 cents per serving.

*κοβρίδες - ko-VRI-thes: and I've just discovered that this 'weed' is lamb's quarters or pigweed - Chenopodium album.

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