Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Vlita - Amaranth (Βλήτα)

A non-Greek friend of mine living in Crete recently found a bag of greens - amaranth leaves on their stalks, a Greek summertime favorite known as vlita (βλήτα - VLI-ta) - hanging off her door handle, left there by some kindly Cretan neighbour who was looking for a way to get rid of her excess harvest.

She asked me what she could do with them. Here is the advice I gave her.

  • Maria's friend: Maria Verivaki........this is my kitchen sink full of vlita... I'm desperate - on the one hand, I don't want to throw away good food, on the other, I don't know what to do with them!
    about an hour ago · Unlike · 1
  • Maria Verivaki OK, the easiest thing to do with them is to boil them as a warm green salad (always served with boiled potatoes and boiled zucchini, and always dressed with olive oil, salt and lemon juice) and served with, say, a boiled egg (not usually a fried one), or some cheese or maybe some leftover meat or fried little fish (marida, sardela, gavros). They also go really well with some sivrasi over the top, or some freshly grated tomato and finely chopped garlic (both raw), as I had them recently at a local mayirio, and always with some bread on the side to mop up the olive oil
    about an hour ago · Like
  • Maria Verivaki Here is something more creative: when we didn't grow enough spinach, i used to make them into 'vlita pita' - clean and chop the very lightly blanched vlita as you would spinach. Add some grated zucchini, finely chopped onion, the usual Greek herbs and spices (mint, parsley, maybe also dill, season with salt and pepper, maybe some oregano if you don't have too many herbs available), and some mizithra (Cretan soft white cheese), or crumbled feta, or blue vein cheese (I was told what a good addition this makes by a Greek village friend of mine - I have never used it myself). Because vlita can be a little bitter, you should blanch them before using (even when you boil them for a warm salad, change the water once or twice)
    vlita amaranth pie
    about an hour ago · Like
  • Maria's friend: How long does it keep when vlita is boiled, obviously not freezable...there's tons!!! And only 2 of us (I know, it's neighbours trying to get rid of their I can't say no!). OK, I'll make spanakopita
    about an hour ago · Like
  • Maria Verivaki Cook until the stems are soft, which means about 20-30 minutes in a rolling boil. You CAN freeze them if you are really really keen to do this (I don't do this because it is futile: Crete is covered in greens most year round). My US friend who used to run a Greek restaurant in NY told me that she froze them because they weren't that easy to find there; you can partly boil them, place them in a plastic freezeable container with some water, so they are swimming in it, and freeze them. They defrost nicely in the water, and should be reheated and/or cooked longer with new water
    about an hour ago · Like
  • Maria's friend: Oh, OK, will try that... as it's so hot today, I really don't want to spend it in the kitchen cooking...
    about an hour ago · Like 
  • Maria Verivaki There are also more creative ways to cook vlita (but I am not really keen on such ideas - they don't really fit in with the Greek way of doing things, if you know what I mean). Some things are just too not-Greek (reminds me of feta mousse, olive ice-cream and mastich-flavoured everything)
    about an hour ago · Like 
  • Maria's friend: No, doesn't sound right... Cretans don't use basil much either, do they? 
    about an hour ago · Unlike · 1
  • Maria Verivaki No, despite its abundance, and their craze for it on their windowsills, it rarely gets into their traditional food, although you see it more often in restaurant menus these days.
    Boiled vlita lasts for about 4 days without a problem, in its water, in the fridge - so if you cook them today, you can continue to eat them throughout the week (they won't go off, neither will the potaotes and zucchini, but cook each one separately, because if you cook everything together, the potatoes tend to discolour which may be off-putting)
    about an hour ago · Like
    • Maria Verivaki If you look at what the Chinese do with vlita, it's not far from the basic Greek recipe: they stir fry it, with onions and garlic, and they add dressings like soy sauce. It's very similar to horta vrasta (boiled greens) with the typical dressing of their region (I wonder if the Chinese would stick their stir-fry vlita over a plate of noodles???)

      While we're talking about the Chinese, don't forget that vlita are always cooked, never raw (don't ask me why, but that's how the Greeks and the Chinese eat them, never raw - so there must be a 'right' way to eat them)
      about an hour ago · Like
    Maria's friend: Yes, I notice that with the locals - they don't stray too far from the tried and tested
    about an hour ago · Unlike · 1
  • Maria Verivaki Some modernisms in Greek cooking take away not just the authenticity of the Greek dish, but add a dash of the 'liquorice allsorts' touch to dishes that were quite happy to be left alone just as they have been eaten for a long time. I really cannot appreciate these modernisms to this day, despite my desire to aspire to modern culinary trends - I think it's got to do with my aversion to the idea of deep frying a battered oreo biscuit...
    about an hour ago · Like
  • Maria's friend:  No, keep cooking fresh and as simple as possible, as far as I'm concerned.
    about an hour ago · Like· 1
  • Maria Verivaki Some combinations of Greek food are very very ancient - they worked well in those days, and they continue to work well in our days. But in creative cuisine, we might mess up the tried and true combinations, to the point that if we have lost touch with the reference point (eg Cretan cooking for example), we lose out on the real taste of a particular meal, and we can only eat it if we douse it in modern food combos
    about an hour ago · Like
  • Maria's friend: Very true.
    about an hour ago · Like

It is not open-minded to think of modern food combinations, where almost anything goes, as 'wrong', but it is equally narrow-minded to view more traditional culinary practices as old-fashioned or bizarre. Some things are meant to be. This is why I stick to lemon juice in my lentil stew and not grape must, I would never 'cook' my taramosalata and I certainly don't use chili in any dishes, unless I am cooking a foreign meal. It just ain't Greek, and my family knows this well.

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  1. There is a more decadent recipe where you blanch the vlita and then sautee them with butter and feta. They are callled vlita tsigariasta.

    Do the chinese stir fry their vlita without blanching? Are they not bitter without blanching?

  2. Hi Mari,
    You've answered a question that I've had for years! I never could find an English translation for vlita. I actually came to adore them when I lived in Greece, but couldn't find them in the US. Amaranth leaves...who'd have thought? I suppose I never will find them here unless I grow them. Amaranth grains themselves are quite pricey, but I've never seen the plant or leaves anywhere.
    Thanks for solving the mystery.