Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

I was watching one of Anthony Bourdain's  food travel episodes about Crete. Aside from the wine, raki  and the seafood -- the persistent appearance of 'horta' at the table was a fascinating feature of local culinary life.

Horta means greens -- often greens foraged for. Once collected and washed they are simply boiled, cooled, and traditionally eaten topped with olive oil and lemon, and a dash of salt.
Oftentimes, sprinkled with crumbed feta. 

The word 'horta' is the plural form of 'horto', meaning 'grass' - not to be confused with the kind of grass that grows on a lawn, which is called 'grasidi'. The Greeks use the word 'horta' interchangeably for the unwanted grasses and weeds that grow in fields, as well as for the various edible leafy greens that grow seasonally throughout the year. (LINK)

Indeed, 'horta' can be made up of many-- almost 'any' -- leafy things as this list (LINK) -- and this list (LINK) --suggests.

A cooked salad?

Presented with such greenery we'd maybe make an adventurous salad but the Greeks boil it all up together and slop it down on the plate.

It tastes OK. Marries nicely with a lot of other foods, even settles on bread as a topping.

Just make sure you use your best olive oil.

So I stated researching horta.

While horta can be prepared as a salad  what I like about cooking the leaves is that the  boiling softens the stems  and blends the flavours of whatever you harvested in a green mush. Nothing to tickle the throat or require spitting out.

No arduous choices...

When you eat horta you know where spanakopita comes from -- in effect a horta pie.

Here is a great memoir of the delights of the  horta lifestyle (LINK). 'Tis charming.

Horta is similar to the traditional Chinese obsession with stir fry vegetables -- which are also cooked: an advantage no doubt in regard to the oxalic acid quotient and any dodgy compounds. Horta also keeps longer that salady things that wilt.

If you fret over the challenge of  upping your veg intake each day -- in Greece the working nutritional model is 4 cups of vegetables per day....and you aint gonna be able to do that without deploying many tricks like horta.

Good discussion here:Eat Like Greek? Greek Dietary Guidelines – A Better Choice (LINK).

Similarly if you aren't so keen on salads -- such as I , preferring salsas -- the Greek way is a advantageous lifestyle choice.Horta also is more versatile on the plate -- indeed horta in Greece can be a main dish.

Horta, of course, is akin to current foraging modes and the keen harvest of 'weeds'. But I think the tradition of horta is a habit that offers a wisdom that warrants exploring and drawing on.

After all, 'tis a very simple recipe....

Kalitsounia fried
Kalitsounia in the oven
Spiral pie
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Horta in summer
Swiss chard (silverbeet)
Eggs with mustard greens
Mountain tea
Octopus stew
Wild asparagus

[Image above from HERE]

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Looking to traditional cultures sees almost nothing going to waste.

During the Nazi occupation of Greece the AXIS powers stripped the country  of its food and transport. There was widespread inflation while the financial system collapsed  and  approximately 300,000  died from famine and malnutrition. In the meantime the Allied Forces had imposed a blockade so no relief ships could deliver foodstuffs to the starving  Greeks.

This disaster was echoed through the 40s and into the fifties when the ' Greek/Cretan/ Mediterranean diet was studied by US researchers  that led to the 'Seven Countries Study (in the 1950s) which made Ancel Keys so famous.

Things were still pretty grim then -- not only with the home grown generals in power but enough to encourage so many  Greeks to immigrate. Australia is home to one of the largest Greek communities in the world because of these savage times.

So I reckon this traditional sense -- the foraging and make do -- had a big impact on the Greek diet and tradition was embraced in desperation and relief.

Later research on the Greek or Cretan diet seems to confirm the efficacy of that tradition but we need to note that it was studied coming out of borderline starvation.

Not that I know for sure, but I suspect 'horta' is probably more important than nutritionists and anthropologists suggest.

When I was eating at Greek Tavernas in the late 60s in Greek Town -- Melbourne -- and later from meals with Greek friends --  the food was very different from the Mediterranean fare we expect to be offered today. What I like about horta is that it debunks the restaurant myth. No daintiness. Slop on plate eating. You'd get a stew, legumes  and a horta of sorts with bread at table and water.

The latest Greek based recommendations for bread intake are 4 slices per day.

Great food.

As I love to point out the average consumption of olive oil per capita in Crete is 34 litres per capita per year. My plate in the sixties was swimming in olive oil. Mediterranean dietary olive oil should be around 4 tablespoons per day -- and you aint gonna get that into you just with a meat stew. Nor do I accept this 'lean meat' label applied to the Medit diet because these folk would not have wasted any part of any animal.Fat, organ meat...all food.

But when you glug glug oil over a horta or tomatoes, you are moving into the zone. -- and you'd need a lot of oil to wash or help slip down 4 cups of vegetables each day. But then look at the caloric value of this oil? Fills you up.

The other problem I have, say, with the pyramid is that it classes lamb as 'red' meat when I know that Americans have no sense of lamb. They're obsessed  beef eaters -- chewing through feedlot animals.  Lamb is truly Arabic, Greek ...and Australian fare.

Similarly, I suspect that by the time of the 7 country study, the sheep herds would not have recovered their numbers after  the German occupation and looting. The invaders even stole fishing boats.

So how real are the recommendations given that they come out of a specific epoch? Its' an interesting question but what struck me about horta is that seems to serve as the glue that holds the menu together. That, olive oil, tomatoes and bread (on Crete it is barley). ...but also lamb and maybe goat. As well as the seafood.

But then there are so many fast days in the Greek Othodox calendar too:

Unless a fast-free period has been declared, Orthodox Christians are to keep a strict fast every Wednesday and Friday. The following foods are avoided:
Meat, including poultry, and any meat products such as lard and meat broth.
Fish (meaning fish with backbones; shellfish are permitted).
Eggs and dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, etc.)
Olive oil. A literal interpretation of the rule forbids only olive oil. Especially where olive oil is not a major part of the diet, the rule is sometimes taken to include all vegetable oils, as well as oil products such as margarine.
Wine and other alcoholic drink. In the Slavic tradition, beer is often permitted on fast days.(LINK)

So while there are traditions there are other factors ruling the diet aside from culinary preferences.

What I forgot to mention was the later impact  --after the German occupation -- of the Greek Civil War 1946-1949 --  which left Greece in ruins and in even greater economic distress than it had been following the end of German occupation.

Hey thanks for this Dave.  Can wait to have a play with a few of these.

I'm liking the idea of scrambled eggs, potato and greens as well. 

Despite my fam's disdain for 'green muck'(almost any green!) at least I happily forage for horta greens.

True -- on the plate it does look like dog vomit, but the surprises are worth the effort.

I made a great horta tonight with chicory stems, dandelion leaves, katuk, Okinawan spinach,  and fennel tops.

Boil 'em all up and drain -- then dress with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, grated garlic, salt and pepper.

Despite the mix the flavor was various and subtle. Quite a surprise...and without any bitterness.

I was prepared to sweeten (and dress it up)  with some TT tomatoes like this  (LINK)-- but it was not called for.

I'd tempted the relies before with some toms in the mix but they were not, and seemingly will never be, won over.

For greenery junkies -- of the smoothie persuasion -- horta is sure to be 'safer' fair  as any oxalic acids are cooked out.

In Greece folk -- when not roaming the hills or neighborhoods foraging -- grow horta gardens, which, of course, tend to be wild jungles planted with weeds and things.(LINK)

Ate my Horta leftovers -- given the rejection of said fam, there were some -- on toast for breakfast.

Quite a zing for thing in the morn as the lemon had set in.

My Horta experiments continue and I gotta say that Horta rocks my taste buds.

Gathering horta is fun too: a bit of that, some of this...a few leaves of those.

I have the chicories left over from Summer ( they survived the heat) still keenly growing in my patch. No worse for wear and weather. Add a few dandelion leaves, some fennel greens,some Okinawan spinach and Gynura procumbens (DiabetesPlant /Longevity Spinach), a bit of cabbage to hand and lettuce leaves -- even some Pepper Leaf and Water Spinach, Warrigal Greens...or whatever.

Rinse them well. Chop Up. Boil them up in plenty of water. Drain. And drizzle on the good stuff.

I like to add some grated garlic once cooked  and throw in some grape tomatoes towards the end of boiling. Crumbed fetta goes well too.

As well as good extra V olive oil it has to be fresh lemon. Lime doesn't work so well.

The flavour tightens when the horta cools to room temperature but the zing still lives on to cover toast the next morning.

Since you cook the green harvest keenly, you deal with any oxalic acid issues coincidentally.

You can add cooked legumes to the Horta but i think beans are best served separately  with the option of mixing them on the plate.I'm just planting out a range of Radicchio, Chicory and Endive which to my palette are preferable to Dandelion leaves.

Horta is such an eye (and mouth)  opener that for me, I've embraced a new relationship with greens.

I am indeed a big fan of the Hortopita.  I use it for all my greens, my eggs and all manner of left of cheeses.  Gourmet garbage pie!  

As I've indicated in other posts, I've tuned my back on green leaf salads and hortas  in pursuit of the soup du jour.

'Raw' is probably a nutritional mistake due to oxalic acid and the chance of infections.  Soup -- on the other hand -- with the input of the broth -- ticks many bowls so long as you simmer the greens long enough.

Whereas a horta's  taste is ruled by the foraged greenery, you can generate more complex flavour  sensations  in a bowl of soup.

Neither the Greeks nor the Turks are great users of broth -- whereas  Eastern Asia is ruled by it.

I find that you can replicate the horta leafery  in a soup bowl. You also get to add the nourishing options of mushrooms, anchovies or prawns, seaweed and various fermented sauces like fish, soy, miso, etc.

And while this may seem to be ruled by Asian culinaries -- it is easy to play Greek-meets-East by adding freshly stewed or grilled tomatoes into the soup. In both cases a slurp of oil -- olive or sesame -- just before serving works a treat.

You can add cooked legumes -- but not as many as you would in a Greek dish.

However, you do eat soup hot.

A close relative of horta -- I reckon -- is the Mexican Nopales tradition. My mouth says that these cactus paddles  would be equally at home in a Greek horta, as they are in my own soups. This time of year with so many young cactus paddles busting out, 'tis a feast.

One disadvantage of horta is that the form doesn't allow for texture contrast. Afterall, green muck is still green muck. With a soup you can add crunchy bits-- like root veges or bean sprouts, etc --  towards the end of prep.

Oh Dave, Lord of the Beachmere sandy soil.  I boldly intend to say unto thee - thine green tinctures lack the textures that the Lord of the Manor doth desire in a hearty meal.  If I was feeling cheeky, I might suggest that there is a big difference between thine Eastern Asian "slop" - and the fine and meaty fest o my Scottish grandees, rightly called dah "broth!"  I mean to say, my good man, should we ask a clansman to go to battle after eating a bunch of boiled, lifeless greens?  Or shall we offer them a sterner broth of lamb, barley, and home grown veg which might well include a whole bunch of those hearty greens? 
Och... and aye... you'll deny ye salads now, my man.  Until the summer comes in. Let's see you lookin' tay soup then lahdie! 
In the words of that Mel Gibbon bloke, "They may tak mah life, but they'll never tak mah texture!"
(What?  You got a tad carried away Andy?  Nah - it cannay be true!"


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