Given that I have just posted my "Field Guide to Greek Wild Greens", I thought it perhaps fitting to share a new recipe with you, which uses a variety of different wild greens and comes from my mother in law’s recipe collection. Quite commonly in tavernas all over Greece, a big bowl of horta is served alongside a plate of char-grilled octopus. At home, the weekly meal is a little more simple and the octopus and horta are combined into the one dish.
Sometimes you can just have the braised greens alone and the style of cooking them is called ‘tsigariasta’ (τσιαγαριαστά) which means sautéed in Greek. It is a very popular style of cooking in the Ionian islands. Depending on the season, the greens can be braised with a little fresh tomato, or in winter when citrus is at its best, you can use a generous squeeze of lemon.
To give the greens a little more flavour – different types of seafood can also be added, depending on the season and what is available. This dish was a common feature on the family table (and remains so) while Mr K was growing up. Sometimes Ma would add a little salt cod to the dish, or perhaps some small clams (a favourite with my niece and nephew, who I recently observed happily wolfing down two great big bowls of yia-yia’s greens with clams) – but the favourite ingredient of Mr K was always octopus!
The wild winter greens, which are now at their best in my garden, included some really aromatic Kafkalithra (Καυκαλήθρα), some common garden and red veined sorrel (Lapato / Λάπατο) and italian radiki (ιταλικό ραδίκι). My mother in law also gave me a huge bunch of nettles (with the direction that I use the water they are cooked in to use in my hair - it adds plenty of shine). The greens in my garden have not started to bloom or flower yet, but not doubt they will in the coming weeks as the weather turns to full Spring sunshine. The lemons we have are also really at their best at the moment, so I opted to use those instead of fresh tomatoes or Greek tomato paste, but you could use this if your prefer – along with a good touch of spicy heat from a dried chilli or two! The beauty of this classic Greek homestyle dish is that you can pretty much add any type of greens you like - leeks, spinach, chard, rocket or any type of chicory.
The addition of some octopus with the wild greens really makes this a complete meal, along with a little bread – and if you like some feta cheese and olives on the side. If you are feeling really hungry, you can also serve the dish over some pasta.
Braised wild greens ‘Tsigariasta’ with octopus (τσιγαριστά με χταπόδι)
2-3 onions, chopped (at least one red and one brown)
2-3 bulbs of fresh green garlic, chopped into half or large pieces
1 bunch of radiki (or you could use any type of chicory)
1 bunch of nettles (it is best to boil these briefly beforehand to remove the stings and make them edible. Use thick fabric or rubber gloves when handling them)
1 bunch of sorrel (or you could you spinach)
½ bunch of rocket
½ bunch of kafkalithra (you could use chervil)
½ bunch of dill
juice of one lemon (or 1 glass of fresh tomatoes, chopped)
1 glass of water
1 small octopus
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Wash all vegetables and herbs well and roughly chop, put aside.
2. Clean the octopus: Remove the hood by cutting just below the eyes. Using a sharp knife, remove the small black beak and hard cartilage around the mouth. Turn the hood inside out and remove the viscera. Cut the hood into strips about 1 half inch wide. Cut the octopus into pieces.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy skillet over low heat and add the onions. Cook in oil for about 12-15 minutes, or until they are translucent. Then add the garlic and stir to combine.
4. Add the octopus pieces and stir. Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the octopus turns deep pink and releases its juices.
5. Add the remaining greens and then add a little water so the contents of the pan does not stick to the bottom. Allow the greens cook until the liquid has evaporated, then add the juice of one lemon – around 30 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure they are not catching on the pan. Its best to avoid stirring and breaking down the greens - just give the pan a good shake. Finally, add the chopped dill and stir well. Check for seasoning (it may be salty enough with the octopus). While the dish is great as is, you can also serve it over some pasta if you wish.