How to Pick Your Own Greens
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When visiting Greece, one thing that really stands out is the close relationship that most people have to the land. Nowhere is this more obvious than in self-sufficient villages and islands, such as Crete. In fact, people all over Greece go to the hills and pick what they can.
Our favorite taxi driver on Crete informed us that he waits until the winter to pick greens because he’s able to hike into the mountains and forage for all of his favorites. From there, he and his wife make all of their traditional favorites, such as hortopita and even boiled greens. I quickly realized that he wasn’t alone – most people thought the same way as him.
Just because our families may not live in Greece anymore doesn’t mean this pursuit needs to die! There are wild greens all over the world, just waiting to be picked. Before you get started, make sure you know how to identify and pick them properly. Here’s an overview of some of the most common ones.
If you’re living in the United States, dandelions are considered invasive because they’re not native. Because of that, they can often grow wild and out of control. However, instead of trying to kill them off, as most people do when they apply herbicides to their lawns, you can eat them instead! They taste best in the early spring when the leaves are tender and young. For the best flavor, pick them before the plant flowers. However, you can eat them whenever you want, you just may need to change the water a few times during the cooking process to get rid of the bitterness. The flowers are also edible and taste delicious when brewed into a tea.
I learned how to identify this plant from my Yiayia. When my dad was weeding his garden, he had a pile of greens that he was going to discard. My grandmother came running outside the house, frantically looking through the pile to make sure nothing would go to waste. Lamb’s Quarters, or Levethies, were amongst the weeds. She took them inside and put them in the evening salad. I have since used it to make my hortopita. Lesson learned.
Amaranth, or vleeta, isn’t as common where I live as it is in other parts of the country. However, I have been able to find it tastes so good; it’s worth tracking down. Centuries ago, the seeds were also used as a type of grain. They were often ground down into a powder and turned into bread.
Nettle, or tsouknides is a stubborn plant. Otherwise, it wouldn’t stink you the minute you try to pick it! Wearing gloves, long sleeves, and pants in the middle of the summer to prevent the stingers from getting into your skin, though, is well worth the effort. Once cooked, the stingers die off and what’s left is a delicious, succulent green that has a distinct, and delicious, flavor. You can also dry the leaves of this plant and make a nourishing tea.
As you can see, there are plenty of wild greens to pick and enjoy! Most of these can be used the same way as spinach.
Categorized in: Greek Cooking
This post was written by Greek Boston