Monday, 28 January 2013

Rumex obtusifolius - Dock (Λάπαθα)

Dock (also known as sorrelRumex obtusifolius)) is known as λάπαθα (LA-pa-tha) in Greece. It's a common plant found growing in lone clumps in fields. The splotched leaves have a sour lemony taste. They grow quite long which makes them useful for making winter dolmadakia, when fresh grape vine leaves aren't available. I was first introduced to them by an aunt who foraged them in the village where she lived. It is popularly sold throught the cooler months. I buy some occassionally from the same place I buy my wild horta at the street market.

I was lucky to find a clump of dock growing in both our orange orchard (bottom centre) and home garden (right). The land is often turned in the garden, making weeds disappear for a couple of seasons before they reappear; the orchard isn't fenced, so I thought another forager would get to them first. I looked around for more sorrel in both fields, but I didn't find any.

The lady at the stall is quite a character. As I approach her stall, she calls out to me, boasting about the high quality of her wares: "Come, my girl, buy some horta for your kalistounia!" When I ask her for a bag, she tells me that I can fill it myself. When I ask her why there are chard leaves (which we grow in our garden) on top of the wild horta, she says it's to stop the horta from wilting. "You pick whatever you want, dear," she tells me. But there are also chard leaves at the bottom of the pile too; she says they got there by accident. When I start to turn the horta on the table to find the species I want, she asks me gruffly: "What are you looking for?" So I tell her I want petrokare and akournopodi and she searches in her crates for clumps of those species. 
The sorrel leaves I found were too small to make into dolmadakia, so I used them in a spanakopita for more flavour. I bought some large sorrel leaves from the street market to make dolmadakia.

When she finds them, she chucks them hard on top of the other wild aromatic horta (€4/kg) and turns away to deal with another customer. I keep filling my bag and then wait my turn for her to weigh it. She comes back and grabs my bag. I make sure to remind her I only want half a kilo of greens today. She throws it on the scales and tells me it's more than half a kilo. I ask her how much it costs; without taking any greens out of the bag, she says: "€2, that's how much you wanted to spend, isn't it?" I laugh, and give her €2. 
To flavour my dolmadakia, I added a mixture of wild and cultivated greens growing in the garden: wild carrot, borage, fennel, hartwort and (cultivated) parsley. I rolled the stuffed dock leaves into triangles, which requires a technique (click here) like rolling filo pastry into cheese pie triangles.

Then I pick up a pack of lapatha, which are sold in bunches without the stem, with the tops and bottoms tied together with a rubber band. Dock leaves are a prized green, and are therefore sold separately from other horta species (rarely mixed in with them). The lady at the stall senses another purchase: "Take some lapatha, dear, add them to your kalitsounia." I see the sign at the front: ΛΑΠΑΘΑ €0.80. I decide to take them and give her €1. I tell her to keep the change.
I ran out of dock leaves when there were about 4 tablespoons of rice stuffing left. So I used another leaf I'd harvested when I visited my uncles' farm: pak choi, from a gift of seeds I had given them.

"No," she says, "you take your change," and she comes back with €0.20, but I waive it away. As I do, she frowns, and grabs another bunch of lapatha, stuffing them into my bag before I have time to protest. I walk away from her stall thanking her.



You can see the dock leaves in the white bucket in both the photos.

"See you next week," I call out as I leave the stall.

The milk of dock leaves is said to have been used regularly in the past to relieve the sting from nettles. Did they know they could eat the leaves afterwards?

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2 comments:

  1. Fascinating. I want to be an old lady selling greens in Crete!
    Next summer I better "get with it" and look around the fields and pastures. There MUST be something out there to eat.
    My brother has foraged mushrooms around here somewhere but he was a bit cagey and wouldn't say where he found them. I guess I'll have to bribe him.

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    Replies
    1. mushrooms are always a problem - the ones growing in my area are generally poisonous

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