The Olive and the Caper by Susanna Hoffman is a culinary travelogue of Greece, with classic Greek recipes like Leek, Potato and Olive Pie (Prassopita), Warm Greens (Horta), and Roasted Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Thyme.
Heaping platefuls of simmered greens are served two ways in Greece: still steaming hot, straight from the cooking pot, and cooled to room temperature, almost like a salad. Either way, the satisfaction and vitality they offer are abounding. Bear in mind that some greens need to boil longer than others to become soft and tender (collard and kale take longer than purslane). Some are better steam-wilted with barely any liquid (endive and arugula). Some can be found at the grocer's; some must be hunted on the hills.
Top a plate of hot greens just lifted from the boiling water with a sprinkling of chopped olives or a stir of pressed garlic and dash of lemon.
1. Heat the oil in a large non-reactive pot. Stir in the garlic, then the greens and olives, mixing well. Add water as necessary (see Note below), and simmer gently until the greens are very tender, 5 to 30 minutes depending on the type.
2. Stir in the lemon juice and serve right away, while still warm.
NOTE: The amount of water to use for cooking greens is quite variable, but not really tricky. For sturdy-leaved bitter greens, such as dandeloin, collard, turnip, or kale, add enough water to cover the greens so that they boil until tender. For more delicate-leaved greens such as spinach, arugula, chard, watercress, beet greens, or sorrel, the water clinging to the leaves after washing will suffice. Purslane, Asian greens, the choys, and other stiff-leaved but not at all bitter greens lie in-between; add several splashes of water but not enough to float them.
NOTE: Recognizing how good greens are for you, Greeks drink the cooking water as a healthful beverage.
Feathery fern to sprouting bulb, leaf as broad as a plate to grasslike spear, plump shoot to prickly thistle, growing in tangles or hiding alone, some biting, some bitter, some sweet, some sour: The abundance of wild and tame greens devoured in Greece utterly defies enumeration. Most were known to the ancients—bryony, mustard, mache, grape hyacinth. Some have more recently entered the inventory—spinach, Swiss chard. Some are widely cultivated; some still require pursuit. Some are known throughout the country; some are so local that Greeks from neighboring areas wouldn't know them.
Hardly a day goes by without some green appearing among the table's offerings. Sometimes the greens are fried; others that cook quickly are sauteed. When staunchly wild, some—like the field dandelion—need several dips in hot water. Many become the filling for a pie (see pages 93, 95 of the book) or the flavoring for a pilaf (page 231). Most are simply boiled, topped with the kitchen's best pungent olive oil, and placed before the diner like a warm salad.
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This page created September 2007
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