Welcome to Crete: we forage here. We are one with nature. We eat green.
Some 300 wild leafy greens count as “horta” and of them, we only remember the usual suspects: borage, wild garlic, wild asparagus, purslane, amaranth, mustard, dandelion, and grass lily among others. But, the star of this story is stamnagathi.
You can consume stamnagathi raw – in a salad, but it shines blanched or steamed, with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. My Greek Heart has valuable information about this “superfood:”
The plant contains free sugars, mainly glucose (0.14-0.69 g/100 g), and sucrose (0.18-0.6 g/100 g) (3). The edible parts of the plant are considered good sources of vitamins alpha-tocopherol, C, K1, and beta-carotene, as well as contain potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and sodium (3-6).Treasures of Greek land : Cichorium spinosum (Stamnagathi) by George Milessis
To make a salad, you’ll simply need to wash the weed well, pat dry with some paper towels, then toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and lemon juice.
To make it “horta” rinse well, then steam for 10 minutes or blanch for a couple of minutes. Then, season with olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. That’s it. As you see, stamnagathi is simple, honest food. Cooked this way, stamnagathi stands on its own, or will shine as a side dish for fish or roasted lamb. It also goes well with pan-fried eggs.
Do you love spinach pies? Cretans use stamnagathi instead of spinach for “hortopita” or pies made with horta. The green is as versatile as your imagination.
Why is it a staple? Because it is available year-round, you can forage it in the wild (no cost) and it cooks in minutes. Its nutritional value is important too: consider that it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin, and linoleic acid.
The plant itself is endemic to Crete. It is a natural diuretic and it’s good for your liver, although there’s very little data to support the claim. You can boil stamnagathi when you have a tummy ache – the broth should help. I like the broth with a bit of salt every time I blanch stamnagathi to make “horta.” Again, horta is a generic name and it applies to all wild greens. Apparently, it is a Cretan “secret” for “long life and wellbeing.”
Cretans ate it because they were hungry – naturally. But they discovered, hundreds of years back, that it served to reduce glucose, detox, as a diuretic, and against stomach aches. Cretans counted on stamnagathi for vigor and health. And why do I love stamnagathi? It looks cool. I eat everything green (not arugula, don’t get me started), and it is really really hard to pronounce. Now, repeat after me: stamn-a-ga-thi. I hope you smiled.
We’ll have a whole week of Cretan green. Then, we’ll turn whatever color I find to inspire me.