As my readers know, I love to frequent farmers markets to shop for vegetables, talk to the farmers and participate in the age-old traditions of community marketplaces.
Here in Michigan, the heavy June rains have delayed the summer harvest. So, in a recent visit to one of my favorite markets, the Royal Oak Farmers Market, I was delighted to see the abundance of produce. Jacob Bach, of Nature’s Pace Organics, had young lacinato kale, hearty green kale, a variety of radishes with beautiful green tops and purslane–rich with omega-3s. Don Cinzori of Cinzori Certified Organic Farms had a profuse selection of arugula, young collard greens, kale, young zucchini, english peas and the first broccoli shoots.
I made my way around the market juggling the heavy bags bursting with the treasures of the earth and musing over what to prepare with this wonderful bounty. It came to me when a elderly woman brushed past me with her arms full of produce. She reminded me of my Greek relatives, bringing back wonderful memories of eating traditionally prepared greens with them on the island of Crete.
Aunts and cousins would harvest their kitchen gardens to prepare Horta –freshly picked greens simply cooked. Some nights it seemed as though they invited the entire village to join us for dinner; for those large events, they journeyed into town to the agora in Chania, an early 20th century structure built to resemble the ancient Greek marketplaces. They filled their baskets with dandelion greens, lambs quarters, spinach, escarole–just to mention a few. Back in the busy kitchen, they dressed the greens with sea salts harvested from coastal deposits, homemade olive oil and lemons from their own trees.
Horta (also Horta Vrasta) can pertain to any green vegetable which is boiled in its own juices and dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The Cretan tradition of eating wild greens may be one of the longevity secrets in the Mediterranean diet. In Greece, picking the greens is almost a national pastime which my grandparents brought with them when they came to America. They often took me along to pick dandelion greens in their favorite spots around Canton, Ohio. (I recently read about a Greek who was arrested in Chicago for picking them on someone’s property!)
The key to making good horta is to use just enough water to cook the greens while ensuring a small amount for bread dipping. This way, all the nutrients in the vegetables are consumed.
Also, do not feel restricted by one or two greens, it’s fine to mix and match a number of them, but, keep in mind the various cooking times. Collard greens take much longer than most greens and arugula cooks almost instantly.
The right choice of olive oil can make a significant difference to the taste of the horta. I prefer extra virgin oils made with Greek Koroneiki olives. One organic brand which stands out is from Theo Rallis’ family farm, Rallis Olive Oil. Theo has developed a method for ice pressing the oil which preserves the nutritional integrity, often degraded by the naturally hot environments of traditional olive pressing
This recipe is from my book, Vegetarian Traditions. Feel free to adapt it to other greens.
Swiss Chard Horta
6 cups, or 1 bunch red, multi-colored or white chard, stemmed, washed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
In a large saucepan on medium-low heat, cover and simmer chard until stems are soft.
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a serving bowl, mix together all dressing ingredients. Add cooked greens and broth. Gently mix the greens into the dressing and serve.
Serve warm, room temperature or cold.