Wild greens, just like in Greece
A little while ago, I posted a photo of a bunch of wild greens on my Instagram feed.
I had just returned from a morning shopping at my local Farmer’s market in Ramsgate with a friend, Diana and while the original intent was to purchase spices and nuts, I came across this organic vegetable stall selling leaves I had not seen before: amaranth, milk thistle and red dandelion. Diana is a vegetarian, so assuming she would know her veggies better than me, I asked her what to do with them. The look on her face said it all ( aka “No Idea !” ) and never to back down from a challenge, I decided to buy all the bunches I could fit into my basket and carry out wild green experiments. I promised Diana to report back.
For some reason, wild greens make me think of foraging and picking weeds from the backyard. Mr T frowned at the sight of all these leaves, mentioning stinging nettles and other unpleasant plants but I reminded him of the time years ago when we were cruising around Corsica, and while hiking with the kids I ran into an old local lady who was collecting wild asparagus on the side of a hill. She was kind enough to take me along and show me how to recognise what looked to me like tiny green twigs, pluck them gently and share her simple recipe of wild asparagus omelette. It was absolutely delicious, even Terry said so. And thus started my interest in wild greens…
Over the years, I found it best to keep the cooking of green leaves as simple as possible, in order to retain the colours vibrant and the flavours fresh. Having said that, some greens tend to be bitter and do benefit from the addition of other elements to offset the bitterness.
On the scale of bitterness, amaranth and milk thistle rate pretty mildly on par with watercress in my book, red dandelion however is way up there especially when you dress it with vinegar or lemon juice as I did ( a mistake I am sure not to repeat!).
The following dishes are inspired by our past travels in the Mediterranean, particularly the Greek islands. There was not a single meal that didn’t include “horta”, a platter of boiled wild greens reported to be beneficial to your health and an essential part of the Crete diet, simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Boiled greens is the simplest dish you could ever make to accompany meat, chicken or fish. The wild green pie is an ideal way to use up big bunches of leaves, as they wilt during the cooking process and taste amazing when combined with halloumi and currants. Traditionally the pie crust would be made of puff pastry or even phyllo but here I have substituted a paleo friendly nut pastry to satisfy these of us on carb and gluten -free diet. With Easter coming up soon I guess you could say it is this year’s take on the Easter Pie I made last year.
Horta or Boiled Greens
Horta literally means grass in Greek, as in weeds not lawn! Any green leaves can be used for this dish: spinach, fennel, amaranth, dandelion, beetroot, rocket, silverbeet…I used milk thistle. Don’t be scared of the amount of leaves used, they boil down to next to nothing ! I like to make a big batch so I can have leftovers ( they taste delicious cold splashed with EVO and salt flakes, and not so bitter once cooked ).
Serves 4, as a side dish
1 large bunch of milk thistle ( about 1 kg )
Enough water to cover the greens
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring water to the boil. Clean the milk thistle of any dirt and wilted leaves. Trim the stalks, and cut into manageable pieces ( do not chop ! ). Boil the greens for 15minutes or so, until they are soft and tender ( not mushy )/
- Lift the greens and drop them into iced water to stop the cooking and retain the bright green colour.
- Drain and serve dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, seasoned with salt and pepper.
Wild Green Pie
While the pastry is paleo-ish ( adapted from Pete Evans’ Lunch Box, but i used butter instead of lard ) ), the filling is not so much using halloumi cheese and currants. You need them to offset the slight bitterness of the dandelion ( unlike you like bitter of course !)
Serves 4-6 as a main
150g almond meal
100g coconut flour
80 tapioca flour
25g psyllium husks
1 tsp salt
240g cold butter, cut into small cubes
125 ml ice cold water
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 bunches of mixed greens ( I used red dandelion and amaranth )
2 brown onions, peeled and finely chopped
300 halloumi cheese, crumbled
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp chopped mint
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp dried currants
salt and pepper
- For the pastry: Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter and gently rub with your finger tips until evenly blended ( if you want to keep you hands clean, pulse in a food processor until the mixture resembles crumbs. Then transfer to large bowl ). In a separate bowl, mix eggs, water and vinegar. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix well to form a soft and sticky dough. Turn out onto a clean work surface floured with extra tapioca or coconut flour, and gently shape into two even balls.Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 min.
Roll out one pastry ball until 3mm thick. Place in the freezer to firm up for about 20 min.
Repeat with the other ball.
Once firm enough, trim the pastry into round shape large enough to cover a 23cm pie dish.
Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
- For the filling: Rinse the greens, discarding any yellow or wilted leaves. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, out the greens and onions in and simmer for 10 min. Drain and set aside to cool. In the meantime, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. When cool enough, add the greens to the wet mixture and mix well, seasoning with salt and pepper.
- To assemble the pie: Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly oil a 23cm round pie dish. Transfer the greens filling, spreading it evenly. Cover with pastry, tucking in any overhanging bits. Bake for 45 min or until the top is golden. Allow to cool and serve either hot or cold, sliced in wedges.