I have a confession to make. I've become addicted horta. As you may know, horta is a generic term for a variety of wild greens which grow in Greece and are used in mainly hot and cold salads.
Ordinarily, after collecting and cleaning the various greens, I would simply boil them in water and then serve with lemon and olive oil.
This week, my father in law's garden provided a big basket of various greens. I also bought two big generous bunches of dandelions (known in Greek as radiki) from the Marrickville organic market - for the bargain price of $2.00.
To relieve Mr K from the monotony of my horta addiction, I decided not to serve the usual "hot salad" but instead used the greens to make a delicious savoury wild greens pie, called "hortopita" (χορτόπιτα).
Hortopita (χορτόπιτα) is traditionally made in the spring when wild greens are young and tender. Given that we have had such a mild winter and with a few warmer days recently, the greens in my father in laws garden are growing like it is the start of spring already.
My favourite wild green is amaranth, known in Greek as vlita. When it comes to the use of wild greens in Greek cooking there are strict traditions and, as such, vlita is reserved solely for boiled salads and is not used in pies. It is also a summer green and while the spring time greens are starting to thrive, vlita in the garden is still a few months away. Mr K thinks vlita is my favourite because it is a sweeter green. He likes the bitter greens. The darker and the more bitter, the better they are for you, he says.
So as my favourite green was off the cards, I used my mother in law's favourite combination of greens for this pita. As I mentioned, I used two different types of dandelion greens, known as radiki in Greek, some nettles which are called tsouknida, wild fennel known as maratho and two very special herb-like greens known as kalogeros and kafkalithra. Kafkalithra is prized for its aroma and the flavour it adds to the pita, it is hard to describe. My father in law calls it "musky". In addition, to the Greek greens I added some more conventional ones - leeks, shallots or scallions and dill. The leeks in particular add a little touch of sweetness to balance out the more bitter greens. As the pita cooks, it will bring the most amazing aroma to your kitchen - something like a Greek hillside in the springtime!
There are two ways to prepare your greens. My mother in law's technique, after thoroughly cleaning them, is to chop and salt the greens and allow them to sit for about an hour. The salt will draw the juices from the greens, ensuring you avoid a soggy pie. Alternatively, I skip the salt and wash the greens, quickly pour over some boiling water, drain and then place in a clean piece of cheesecloth to draw out the excess juices. Make sure you keep the juices though, because you can either drink them as a tonic or use them as a type of cleanser/toner for your face.
As I was making this pita at about 9pm on a week night, I opted to use some store bought phyllo dough. It is perfectly fine to use. Although I have to say, the home made slightly thicker olive oil based pastry my mother in law makes is really delicious. I have asked her for a lesson in how to make the pastry - so watch this space for a new post, hopefully soon!!
* 500 grams of various greens, cleaned, drained of excess juices and roughly chopped
* 6 spring onions, thinly sliced
* 1 leek, finely sliced
* 1 bunch of dill, finely chopped
* 150 grams goat or sheep feta cheese, crumbled
* 100 grams grated myzithra cheese (or hard ricotta)
* 2 eggs lightly beaten
* salt and pepper for seasoning
* 1 packet of store bought phyllo pastry.
* Olive oil
1. Preheat your oven to 180C and oil a round baking dish.
2. Combine the cheeses, salt, pepper and eggs in a large bowl and mix well.
3. Add the greens, spring onions, leek and dill to the cheese mixture and mix to combine well.
4. Unroll the phyllo dough from the plastic sleeve and place one sheet of phyllo on a working surface (larger side facing you). Using a pastry brush, brush with olive oil.
5. Place some of the greens mixture along the edge of the dough (along the longer side of the sheet) and roll into a log.
6. Take another sheet of phyllo and brush with olive oil. Place the 'log' at the long edge of the dough and roll up. Repeat.
7. Place the roll (it should have 3 sheets of phyllo) on the baking tray, starting from the outer side of the tray (the phyllo roll should be touching the side of the pan).
8. Repeat with the rest of the dough, placing the rolls (touching each other) in the baking tray, forming a spiral, that leads to the centre of the pan.
9. Brush the top generously with olive oil and bake in the oven for 50-60 mins or until the top is browned.
10. Allow to cool in the pan and rest for around an hour before serving.