Flowers in my Salad!

In the spring we often complement our green salad with all kinds of edible wild flowers adding them to the basic mix; plus any fragrant sprigs and leaves we find in the garden. 

The green salad I described is inspired from the traditional Lesbos winter salad as I adapted it from my book The Foods of the Greek Islands.  

 

 

From the first October rains up until the end of April, the greengrocers of Mytilini, the capital of Lesbos, used to sell each head of romaine lettuce tied together with two or three sprigs of borage (often with its little blue flowers), two or three scallions, several sprigs of peppery arugula, four or five sprigs of dill or fennel fronds, a few sprigs of peppery wild cress and either fresh mint or a little wild celery. Once home, these essential ingredients for the local green winter salad are thinly sliced and tossed with a simple vinaigrette.

 

For the spring version we often create “a multisensory food experience,” as Mind Body Green proposes. “When flavor, texture, appearance, fragrance, and beauty come together on your plate—the result is sheer culinary delight.” 

About the very common, slightly bitter dandelion blossoms —Taraxacum officinale — we read that “the golden blossoms are nutritious edible flowers beloved by herbalists, gourmets, and culinary devotees alike. Their bioactive chemical compounds have been touted for diuretic, liver-supporting, and anti-inflammatory benefits, among others. Some research has even found the dandelion plant may increase Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, two valuable types of probiotics associated with gut health, ” the article point out.

 

 

Ubiquitous all over Greece and on Kea, the pale yellow mustard greens’ blossoms, add a delicious kick to the salad, while the pink rose geranium, and the purple rosemary blossoms and sprigs add extra fragrance to the crunchy greens and herbs. 

It’s important to cut the greens at the last moment and to slice them very thin. If they are coarsely cut, the salad will taste different.

 

WORD of CAUTION: Not all flowers are edible; unless you are sure what exactly you are foraging, be careful because many flowers may be toxic! 

 

RECIPE:  Green, Winter Salad, and the Flowery, Spring Version

 

 

 

 

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HORTA, the Edible Wild Greens

We keep an overused, slightly rusted, wood-handled Opinel knife in the glove compartment of our car. It is there because we never know if and when we will spot some gorgeous edible greens during our rides around the island. Greeks probably foraged for horta —wild leafy greens— because they had little else to eat. We continue to gather and eat them today because we love them.

 

Watch the Video-Slideshow of the most important Edible Greens we forage, and more… 

 

 

During the rainy winter months, and as late as early spring, there are plenty of wild greens in the hills and mountains that surround the villages and the big cities. Middle-aged women and men gather them on special excursions. Armed with a knife and a plastic bag or a basket, the horta-gatherers can be spotted from a distance on a steep hill, but also next to a busy highway. A friend once told me that he has seen Greek-Americans gather greens on a sidewalk in New Jersey. These days, though, most city people buy horta from the weekly farmers’s markets; and they have become quite expensive, a real delicacy. (more…)

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Spring…

This year we did not get much rain after December on Kea.  The landscape is quickly turning from green to yellow, although it is not yet too warm.  Still, spring is gloriously blossoming, and in shady spots green keeps its hold, and flowers keep surprising us with their elegant shapes and colors.  

SEE ALSO

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Our Favorite Ancient Vegan Pudding

Asouré (or aşure) also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is an ancient, delicious, sweetened grain risotto with nuts and fruit, both dried and fresh. It is the perfect vegan dessert and we make it often in the spring, especially the days of Lent before Easter.  

 

Read also about kollyva, another version of the ancient sweet. 

 

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Asouré is probably the continuation of polysporia the mixture of grains symbolically offered by ancient Greeks and other Eastern Mediterranean people to their gods, especially Demeter (Ceres), the goddess of agriculture, much like kollyva which in ancient Greek the meant “small coin” or “small golden weight,” as well as “small cakes.” The Turkish and Greek asouré or asourés, also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is a similar age-old sweet.

In this the wheat berries are not drained as in kollyva, but simmered with sugar, sometimes, especially in Istanbul  together with beans and/or chickpeas until the cooking liquid thickens.  Nuts and dried fruits are added, and the soupy ashure is served in bowls, traditionally decorated with pomegranate seeds. It solidifies when it cools, like a real pudding.  In Israel and throughout the Middle East I found similar sweets, with the grains cooked in milk and sweetened with honey. Obviously, they all share the same ancient roots. (more…)

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PASPALAS: The Rustic Pork Confit of Kea

Like many foods we grew up with and take for granted, I have somehow overlooked until now the humble fried bits of pork used on Kea as general flavoring for eggs, greens, and any vegetable or bean dish.

 

Kean women prepare it each winter with leftover scraps of pork and fat, after the traditional slaughtering and butchering of the family pig. In the old days, the bits were heavily salted so that they wouldn’t spoil as they were stored in clay jars to be used much like Maggi cubes –a common European food flavoring– throughout the year. Costas calls paspalasthe Kea bacon,’ but unlike bacon it is not smoked and it is already fried when you use it to flavor eggs and other dishes.

 

Read about Pig Slaughtering on Kea as I had described it at the Atlantic.  

 

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The importance of this rustic flavoring became apparent when I prepared it in the kitchen of Zaytinya—Jose Andres’ Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant, in Washington DC. During my annual January visit, a few years back, we were trying traditional winter dishes from Kea and other Cycladic islands for a pork and xinomavro wine feast, and Chef Michael Costa was immediately taken by paspalas’ intense and versatile flavor. We made several batches, using pieces of locally grown pork that the chef and his sous-chefs butchered in the kitchen. Besides the Kean scrambled eggs–also called ‘paspalas’ –we filled jars with the pork confit for future use. Bonnie Benwick, the former food editor of Washington Post got enamored with it, as well as with the eponymous scrambled eggs from Kea, and  made the dish famous in her column!

 

(more…)

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