In the Greek kitchen, horta (χόρτα lit. ‘greens’) are a common side dish, usually eaten cold and seasoned with olive oil and lemon.
Here on Skopelos the best times to pick them is starting late fall untill late spring.
You collect them and as you get to know their taste you find the best ways to cook them. Some go really well in pies, other accompanied by a shrimp dish or beans or just the way they are, cooked. Horta can be found everywhere. Don’t pick them near the road and go to fields which are not fenced or your own piece of land.
At least 80 different kinds of greens are used, depending on the area and season, including: black mustard, dandelion, wild sorrel, chicory, fennel, chard, kale, mallow, black nightshade, lamb’s quarters, wild leeks, hoary mustard, charlock, Smooth Sow-thistle and even the fresh leaves of the caper plant.
We will show the greens that we know, how they are called in Greek and how you can recognize them.
This is kefalas. The stem is always purple and the roots go very deep. Don’t cut too deep and take the roots, so the plant can grow again. The roots are in a star. Don’t cut the bigger leaves, they are too tough to cook.
If kefalas grows somewhere without a lot of sun it will grow low on the ground. With sun it will rise quickly like a small bush. It has a mild taste so can be used for everything and especially in pies. It needs to grow somewhere where the earth is moist.
These greens are called ovries. You can find them from March to April in the wild. Some people hunt for them because they are so delicious and quite rare because you can only find them in these 2 months like the wild asparagus (post coming) The ovries grow in the wild and are a green that wind themselves around other plants. The soft top part is edible and you can boil them, use them in a pie or mix them with eggs and make an omelet !!!
When you are boiling horta boil it with a lot of water. Although the greens will lessen in volume make sure they are boiled in a lot of water. The water can be used to drink. Like tea or let it go cold.
This is radiki. You can find it near the sea in places near rocks and there where the soil is not very rich. The plant will stay low on the ground. It grows in a star form as you can see on the picture and you have to cut the root a little bit, so dig deep, otherwise you end up with just the leaves and the stem stays behind. Look at the shape of the leaves so you can separate it from other horta. The edges are quite sharp. In very rich soil this horta can have very big leaves but it will not grow into a bush. The leaves will grow upwards. The smaller the leaves the more bitter radiki is. In general this is one of the most bitter horta. It is usually boiled by itself. Of course you can mix it with other horta and have a great meal or side dish.
Wild asparagus can be found in the same period as horta. The asparagus is much thinner than the cultivated ones. If allowed to grow, the young, edible asparagus spears will eventually turn hard and thorny. Therefore you can find most new asparagus within a very prickly bush made up of last year’s shoots. The thorny branches are the clue.
You can cook the asparagus or use them in an omelet or even eat them raw.
This is marathon (don’t pronounce the n) or wild fennel
In Ancient Greek, fennel was called marathon (μάραθον) It is said that it comes from the greek area called Marathon (meaning “place of fennel”), site of the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the gods.
Fennel’s aniseed flavour comes from anethol, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong.
The Florence fennel is of cultivated origin and has a mild anise-like flavour, but is more aromatic and sweeter. It has a bulb-like structure. Florence fennel plants are smaller than the wild type. Their inflated leaf bases are eaten as a vegetable, both raw and cooked.
ZOGOS or ZOCHOUS
Zogos (Sonchus oleraceus) or Sow thistle refers to its attractiveness to swine and the similarity of the leaf to the ear of a pig. It has a hollow purple stem. Another common name Hare’s thistle refers to its beneficial effects and attractiveness for hare and rabbits.It also has been ascribed medicinal qualities similar to dandelion and succory. Leaves are usually the part which people eat. Blanching or boiling removes bitter flavour.
This is the flower of Zogos, Zochous
These are the leaves of a poppy. The plant is widely grown in warm temperate and tropical climates.The plant has a smooth texture with slightly branched stem. The leaves are erect, large, numerous, ovate to oblong in shape. It is best to pick the leaves before the stem has started growing and the flower comes in bloom. The fresh leaves grow low to the ground. Very nice in pies with Maratho.
Greek Oregano scientifically is named Origanum vulgare. The flower of Greek oregano is white. Oregano is an important culinary herb, used for the flavor of its leaves, which can often be more flavourful when dried than fresh. It has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste, which can vary in intensity. Good quality oregano may be strong enough to almost numb the tongue, but the cultivars adapted to colder climates often have a lesser flavor.
On the 24th of June you can officially start collecting oregano because on this day there is a name day ( there are more than one for this name ) for the name Saint John or Riganas. You have to pick, they say, oregano early in the morning, before sunrise, because oregano is supposed to have “magical powers”. There is an old Greek saying: give him oregano when business is starting to go bad. Oregano is often also used as a medicine for an upset stomach etc. Only on the 24th of June you can pick oregano for medical use. After this day you can also gather is and use it in food.
Take the dried oregano and put the stems in a big baking pan or plastic bag and try to remove the leaves and seeds in it.
Only the stems and some small twigs remain.
I put the whole lot (seeds and leaves) and whirl them for a second in a multi mixer. Ready to go and we will try to remember where all the oregano was found so we can go back next year.