A little while ago, there appeared in a British newspaper a report on how many Cretan pensioners now have to forage wild greens (weeds) just in order to survive. While foraging may be on the rise across Greece because of the harsh financial contions in recent years, it is well known that Greeks, particularly Cretans, have traditionally foraged. The island of Crete is blessed in its variety of wild greens (and snails, another actively foraged food). Foraging is a way of life, analogous (perhaps) with berry picking among the hedgerows in Britain. It is an activity particularly practised by the older generation in Greece who have known periods of uncertainty in the past. They keep the knowledge alive of which wild greens are edible (and desirable) and the locations of particular micro-environments where some of them grow. This is very useful folk knowledge that am hoping is being passed on to the younger generation.
In the last year, I have blogged about Greens or Horta as they are collectively called. I’ve also learned that the term yiachnera, which I originally thought was a specific mixture of wild greens, is a generic term for all wild greens. One wild green which can be found easily, almost anywhere, is nettles. One of the greengrocers in my laiki (market) sells bunches of them this time of year – collected, as he will proudly tell you, from his own garden that is free from cats and dogs, thus declaring the purity of the weeds. However, I have a patch of young nettles (also free of cats and dogs) growing outside my own back door, in the unweeded area just beyond my herb garden, seen in the above picture.
In the space of two weeks, we made sautéed Cretan greens twice – once with greens that can be easily acquired in the market or garden (as listed in the recipe below), and the second time with proper wild greens – spiny chicory (σταμναγκάθι), wild sorrel (λάπαθα), sow thistle (ζοχούς), wild chard (σέσκουλα), nettles (τσουκνίδες) and a mixture labeled “wild mountain greens” or άγρια χόρτα (denoting their source, found high in the mountains), along with young leeks, spring onions and fennel. Both versions very, very nice.
Tsigarista (Τσιγαριστά) & Hortopita (Greens Pie)
This is a traditional Cretan recipe with multiple variations depending on the availabilty and selection of greens. The name tsigarista translates as “sautéed” describing the method of slow cooking in olive oil, the greens effectively steaming in their own juices. Sometimes chopped, skinned tomatoes can be added with the bulk of the greens, but I like it without. This is enough for a party of 10 – or for filling a large phyllo pie.
- 5 Spring onions
- 3 baby leeks
- 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1.5kg chard (σέσκουλα)
- 500g spinach
- 500g sorrel (λάπαθα)
- 250g nettles (τσουκνίδες)
- 1 large bunch fennel greens
All the greens are chopped finely, keeping the onions/leeks separate as well as the fennel. In a large pot or wok, sauté the spring onion and leeks in hot oil first for about 5 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the rest of the greens except the fennel. After about 10 minutes, stirring periodically, the greens will begin to darken. Add the fennel. Sauté and stir until all liquids produced have evaporated, about 30 minutes.
Turn off heat and let it cool a little before stirring in the crumbled feta. Can be served as a vegetable with wedges of lemon (as seen in the photo at the head of the recipe) or used as a filling for a pita (pie). For a phyllo pie, use the thicker type of phyllo for savoury pies, or several layers of the thinner commercial phyllo brushed with oil between layers (three on the bottom, two on top).
Put the finished tsigarista between the phyllo, tucking the ends over to seal. Score the top into individual pieces, brush with egg and optionally sprinkle with nigella seeds. Bake at 170 degrees C (160 fan assisted) for about 30 minutes. Let it rest. Serve warm or at room temperature.