Picture a patch of grass three feet by three feet beneath you. Then imagine you are a Greek Granny with basket in hand, who is foraging for the over eighty kinds of wild greens that appear in the hillsides and fields each spring. You fill your basket with the young leaves of dandelions, dock, mallow, chicory, chickweed, mustard greens, nettles, shepherds purse, lambs quarters, salsify, and sow thistle etc. growing at arms reach all around you.
These you will take home, and as Horta tradition dictates, serve fresh in salads, cook into savoury pies, or serve alone, sautéed with lots of oil, garlic and onions. And because I’ve got many generations of Greek grannies in my blood, it’s no wonder these mini-Greek pies (made with plenty of savoury Feta cheese) are hands down one of my favourite Horta recipes.
Horta dishes are a beloved springtime tradition in Greece and good news is that many of these same greens grow here in the Pacific Northwest. And although many of these greens will only be out until summer arrives the wonderful thing is you can harvest now, blanch and freeze to have them whenever you want.
Which is such a good idea, because of course, they are so amazingly good for you. Spring greens are rich in minerals and vitamins and help to cleanse and revitalize our bodies after months of heavier winter foods. They are astoundingly high in antioxidants, chlorophyll, omega 3’s, and phytonutrients. But more than being bona-fide superfood, I personally love their flavours, which vary between bitter and sharp (mustard greens) to tangy (sorrel and dock) to mild and slightly sweet (miner’s lettuce and chickweed).
For this recipe I used mostly mild greens as a base (chickweed, miner’s lettuce, nettles, purple dead nettle and young hawthorn tree leaves) then used some bittercress (a wild mustard that tastes like arugula) and sheep sorrel for a wee bit of lemony tang. But experiment to your tastes and whatever you find growing around you. And remember the Greeks have created a whole springtime cuisine revolving around Horta dishes – so there is no shortage of recipes online for inspiration.
And if you live in Victoria and want to know more about the bounty of greens that grow all around you – we’ll be conducting a spring green identification and tasting walk in March. Keep tuned for details!
Wild Green Greek Pies
- 5 cups tightly packed assorted wild greens (the smaller and younger plants are the most tender)
- 1 package thawed phyllo pastry or phyllo cups (organic if you can get it otherwise any phyllo pastry will do)
- 1 cup of ricotta cheese OR 5 ounces mild goat cheese, softened
- 3 -5 cloves of minced garlic (according to your taste – I like mine garlicky!)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (or more if you want extra cheesy flavour)
- 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil or melted butter for brushing on pastry
- 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Chop wild greens (or puree – again to your taste. Just make sure you don’t have any big stringy pieces -not nice in your pies)
- Saute greens in a frying pan until limp, then let cool. Squeeze out liquid.
- Cut phyllo pastry into 3 inches squares then press into muffin or cup cake tins, brushing some butter or vegetable oil over pastry as you layer. ( I brushed every 4 or 5 sheets – making three buttered layers)
- Bake until golden, 10 minutes.
- Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until translucent. Stir in the flour, and stir until the mixture is smooth, 1 minute. Add the nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Stir in the ricotta cheese (or goat cheese) until the cheese melts.
- Remove from the heat and mix in the beaten eggs. Take off stove and mix into a bowl with wild greens.
- Spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into each phyllo cup and top with the parmesan. Bake until the filling is set, approx. 15 minutes. Let cool slightly in the pan before serving.
Should make enough for 24 pies. Enjoy!