One of the things I miss so much after returning from our trip to Greece this year are the fresh wild greens, which grow in abudance and are served in just about every taverna. You can see some we ordered in Kefalonia, here. Lucky for me, my beautiful father in law planted some Green Amaranth or Vlita (as they are called in Greek) in early spring. Today he presented me with a gorgeous green bouquet and so it is that this month, my kitchen is blooming with these delicious greens.
Vlita grows wild in gardens all over Greece (and Greek-Australian backyards) in the summer. Unlike many wild greens which are usually very bitter, vlita has a very clean, sweet taste. For this reason, it is my favorite green. Most commonly, vlita is boiled and served as a warm salad dressed with olive oil and either lemon juice or vinegar. Sometimes it is also combined with other abundant summer vegetables such as zucchini. It can also be cooked slowly with tomatoes, onion and garlic - in the same way that the delicous green bean dish, fasolakia, is cooked. Vlita is also sometimes added to other greens to make the filling for hortopita, a wild greens pie - but the vlita is never added in very large quantities.
Vlita vrasta (boiled green Amaranth)
To harvest the vlita, my father in law cut off young shoots by hand (as opposed to cutting the whole plant with a knife from the root or base). The young shoots are best cut by hand in the afternoon.
Throw away an old or yellowing leaves. Remove the tender shoots from any thick stems. Discard the tough, thick stems. Wash the vlita by placing in a large bowl of water and keep changing the water until there is no dirt left floating in the water.
To make the vlita vrasta, (boiled green amaranth) add the cleaned vilta to a saucepan. Add a small amount of water to the bottom of the pan ( there is no need to fully cover the vlita with water). Cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil. Unlike many other greens, the vlita will only take a very short time to cook. You want to retain its bright green colour. Remove the vlita from the pan and place in a serving bowl. Drizzle very generously with olive oil and lemon juice.
A bonus tonic
Don't throw away the water from the cooking. Like all wild greens and artichokes, my mother in law swears by the juice as a powerful health tonic. Simply drain into a glass or jug, add extra lemon juice, allow to chill and drink. It has a very cooling effect. It can also be used as a facial toner.
Vlita is rich in vitamins, fibres, antioxidants and proteins. It contains high levels of calcium, has a high protein content and is very rich in vitamin K, folate, iron and vitamin C - to name but a few of its nutritional values.
Vlita vrasta can be served alone, or with some bread feta and olives. Most commonly, it is served with small fried fish. Today, we accompanied the vlita vrasta with some smokey, grilled octopus (see the recipe here) pita bread and some skordalia (garlic dip).
In my kitchen this month, I also have an abundance of red chilli. The hot summer days of Feburary have produced so many chillies that we simply cannot keep up and eat them all. Inspired by the long garlands of chillies I had seen air drying in Puglia, I decided to give this a go at home. You can either tie string around the green stem of each chilli, or pass a small needle and thread through the green base. The chillies need to be hung in a cool and very well ventilated spot to dry. I have hung my chillies in a shady corner by the kitchen window. Hopefully, they will provide us with a good stock over autumn and winter, as our chilli plants go into hibernation.
As you would have seen from my recent posts, my kitchen is also full of zucchini this month! We had a great crop from our own garden and we were also given a good supply from my parents in law. My father in law's zucchinis have now reached their peak. Today he showed me the two very large zucchini that he has left growing. These will soon be harvested and used only to make the seeds for next summers zucchini patch.
My last batch of zucchini from the garden, was used along with some artichokes and broad beans in one of my favorite Greek lamb stews. Artichokes and broad beans are not in season at the moment. However, you can use the frozen kind as a good substitute. I like to buy the large bags, which come direct from Greece, at our local Greek store and Deli in Earlwood in Sydney.
Lamb with zucchini, artichokes and broad beans
1kg stewing lamb, cut into large pieces
1 onion grated
1kg frozen artichokes
1kg zucchini, cut into 3-4 large pieces
1/2 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
Step 1. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the meat and cook over medium heat, turning occasionally until lightly browned all over.
Step 2. Add the onion, reduce the heat, and cook until softened.
Step 3. Add 1/2 cup of water, season with salt and pepper and simmer for around 1 hour.
Step 4. Add the artichokes, zucchini, broad beans and dill. Cover the pan and simmer for around 30 mins. Serve with some rustic bread and a side of feta cheese.
A big thanks again to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting in my kitchen this month. Why not head to her blog and have a look at the the kitchens of a number of cooks from all around the world.