Not long ago, my Medium Boy flattered one of his teachers by suggesting he might live to his 90s. This teacher, a long time colleague of mine, was taken aback at the thought and reminded my son that the average life span of the typical American male was 75 years.
At this point I told my colleague that in our Greek community we were used to being around a lot of octogenarians and nonagenerians, even a handful of centenarians, many of whom were still driving (which can honestly be a little scary sometimes!).
The secret to this longevity? Really, it’s a lot of things, but obviously that good ol’ Mediterranean diet is a key part. Fresh vegetables, legumes, lots and lots and lots of olive oil, and just real food in general, are big contributors. Some of the tastiest preparations are some of the easiest, too. Not a bad deal.
One key dish that smacks of traditional village food fare is cooked greens. It could be spinach, Swiss Chard, beet greens, and very frequently dandelion greens. Yes, the weeds you pull out of your yard. They taste best during cooler weather, by the way. These greens are called χóρτα (HOR-tah), and it is not unusual to see old Greek ladies on the side of the road stopping to gather up armfuls of the leaves for cooking.
The greens are simply wilted and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. The lemon juice adds a nice zip and actually helps increase the nutritional value of this nutrient rich dish. Greens are high in iron, and the vitamin C in the lemon juice actually helps in absorbing the iron. Pretty good!
Simple Greek-Style Greens (Horta) Recipe
- Greens, any kind
- Olive oil, extra virgin
- Lemon juice
Wash all greens gently, but thoroughly, and allow the water to drain, but do not spin or pat dry. Cut larger leaves, like that of Swiss Chard, into smaller pieces to make it easier to fit them in the pan. The greens will wilt down considerably, so don’t be afraid to make more than you think you will need.
Put about 1-2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a sauté pan. Put in the greens and lightly mix in with the olive oil. Cover the pan and turn the heat to high. Cook until the greens start to sizzle a little, just a couple of minutes, then turn the heat to medium-low and remove the lid.
Continue to sauté the greens by gently pushing them about the pan with a spatula until they are completely wilted but still bright green. Remove the greens from the pan with a slotted spoon so as to leave any liquid behind (it’s great for the garden once cooled!) and put the hot greens onto a plate. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and lemon juice to your desired taste. Gently toss the greens with the oil and juice. That’s it!