The word for "vegetarian" in Greek is "hortofagos", which literally translates to "weed eater". Yes, very funny, but I kid you not. This may explain why Greek non-vegetarians like my dad's neighbour in Limnos thinks that I should be able to eat rabbit because rabbits eat grass. I know, there's no real logic to that but no more illogical than thinking vegetarians eat weeds.
Ironically, on just about every Greek restaurant menu you will find a dish called "Horta", which is simply a bowl of steamed or boiled weeds enjoyed by many a Greek person, vegetarian or not.
So perhaps "weed eater" is a more respectable label than it sounds?
To add to the irony however, many Greek menus that provide English translations will often use the term "Green stuff" as the actual translation for Horta, and I don't think they are trying to be funny. It's all just so delightfully Greek :)
But yes, "horta" literally means weeds (or more romantically, "wild mountain greens") that are indigenous to Greece's countryside including wild spinach, fennel leaves, nettles, poppy leaves, dandelions, purslane, amaranth, beetroot leaves and many, many more. Driving around the Greek countryside you'll often see old women bent over with their baskets collecting these wild greens from the paddocks.
Now many people might cringe at the thought of eating a big bowl full of green stuff, but eaten cold out of the fridge drizzled with fresh lemon juice and olive oil truly is one of the most refreshing summer treats. I could easily eat a whole bowl of it, and often do. It's also one of the easiest salads to make.
You can use a mixture of any greens you like, or just one variety. I used the big bunch of silver beet that came in my veggie box delivery. Sometimes I make horta with just spinach leaves. Any greens will do, as long as you add lemon and olive oil – these ingredients change everything! It's mouth-wateringly amazing how well lemon juice goes with cooked greens. Not only that, but the lemon juice helps your body absorb the iron from beautiful green leafy vegetables.
Horta (Steamed Greens with Fresh Lemon Juice and Olive Oil)
Makes 3–4 serves (or one if you can manage a whole bowl to yourself like I do!)
- 1 large bunch of greens (e.g. spinach, silver beet or any other edible green leaves/weeds)
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 tablespoons of your best extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Steam or boil the greens until tender.
- Drain and transfer immediately to a large bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process and keep the leaves bright green.
- Drain again, place in a medium-sized bowl and toss in olive oil.
- Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Squeeze lemon juice over Horta just before serving, and season to taste with salt and pepper.