Hunting for Horta

Horta is one of the most popular dishes in Greece. There are many types of horta, and the Greeks, especially on the island of Crete, attribute great value to them.

Those in the know (and I am not one of them), can tell them apart, know what each type is good for, and which ones have no value or are inedible. Some are good for the liver or kidneys, or cleanse the blood, and of course all are good for your digestive system.

What fascinates me is that the locals pick them from their own fields, after the heavy rains in October and November. They do not grow them - they are collected from the wild. This is something they pride themselves on, to the point that they even inform you of it at the taverna; “They come from the woods, I picked them myself this morning”.

My wife who is of Epirote descent, remembers picking horta with her grandmother from empty lots in Massachusetts - they picked dandelions. I grew up in Brooklyn, not many empty lots and thus no horta.

A common sight in the Greek countryside is a car parked just off the main road; look a little further and you will find a group of older people walking through the fields, bent over, scouring the ground with a knife in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. Unless you realize what they are up to, it is a strange sight. These “horta hunters”, usually city folk, are having a great day out, searching for their delicious greens; many are well-to-do people making this extra effort in order to eat the delicious, beneficial greens that they grew up with.

So, if you are driving around the countryside and see these “hunters”, and want to join in, I am sure they will welcome you enthusiastically, as Greeks tend to do, and share this tradition of theirs with you.

A small piece of advice: make sure the field you pick horta from has not been recently used by sheep and goats, or any other animals for that matter, as you may find horta with a peculiar taste!