“This common weed of the fields and highways is an excellent vegetable, the young leaves forming an admirable adjunct to a salad, and much resembling endive when boiled and prepared in the same way, or in any of the modes directed for spinach. The slight bitterness of its flavour is to many persons very agreeable: and it is often served at well-appointed tables…..pluck off and use the young leaves only”
-Eliza Acton, writing about dandelion leaves in Modern Cookery for Private Families, 1845
Many years ago I used to visit Greece on a regular basis. In those days it was cheaper to eat out than to eat in, albeit not on a grand scale. But I loved the grazing approach the eating – basically it would be just picking at various different mezzedes – taramosalata, tzatziki, pitta bread, spanakopita, all were favourites of course. And then there was this dish (a good foil for the other rich dishes) of wild mountain greens, known as horta (Χόρτα) it is a fresh mix of mild and bitter leaves. I was amazed to discover that most of the leaves were dandelion.
You don’t need to use dandelion – they’re not normally available in shops – but frisée and watercress will also do to provide the bitter element, and milder greens are also often included – chard for example.
If you do use dandelion leaves which you have picked yourself, make sure they are young and do not bear any touches of red or pink – these are really too tough and bitter.
Incidentally, if you are in Italy there is a good chance you would, instead, be eating cicoria di campo con aglio e olive – dandelion leaves with garlic and olives. To make this you would be boiling your dandelion leaves for about five minutes, draining them, and serving them with black olives, gently fried garlic, salt, pepper and crusty bread.
Recipe for cooking Greek Horta – mixed, wild greens
Serves 6 as part of a spread of mezzedes
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Juice and zest of a small lemon
- 1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- 700g/1 lb 8 oz mild greens – baby spinach or chard
- 225/8 oz bitter greens – frisée (curly endive), watercress, rocket (arugula), mustard, radicchio, or tender young dandelion leaves
- herbs – dill and/or mint for example
- Cracked pepper
- Olive oil for frying
- Make the dressing by whisking the oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic and pepper together.
- Wash the greens in a colander and shake off excess water. Blanch briefly and then fry in a little olive oil in a wok. Turn for a couple of minutes until they have wilted.
- Drain, chop roughly and pour the dressing over.
- Serve in a pretty bowl and allow everyone to help themselves.