About the Horta & Mash Recipe by Andrew Rewald
Horta is the Greek name for a meal of foraged wild greens popular in rural Mediterranean cultures. It is made from any seasonal edible plant, boiled into a pulp-like broth. Known as a soothing medicinal comfort food, the residual bitter liquid is prized by the elderly as a restorative broth. A generous dose of fruity virgin olive oil and lemon juice balances the leafy bitterness.
The bitter taste in many plants is a warning to predators of potentially poisonous food. In small doses such bitter foods are medicinal because they stimulate our body’s defence system, which enhances our antioxidant system to protect against disease. In the wild, all plants work hard to survive which means in general their immune systems are strong and are generally higher in minerals and vitamins than cultivated varieties. It helps to know a little about different plants we eat. For instance, the mucilaginous juice of Purslane (pigweed) soothes digestion, aided by its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities, but is high in oxalic acid which is problematic in high doses.
Food tells us about the migration of plants and people. I was introduced to horta by a Greek friend in Melbourne 2012 when I became interested in foraging. The story of her family’s migration from Greece to Australia caught my imagination, upon hearing that her aunts had brought seed of various wild leafy greens and spread them in parks for a plentiful supply; an historically common practice that connects migrant communities to a new land. One Germanic ancestor of mine was documented carrying seed of 60 edible species when migrating to Australia. Mashed potato is a dish that speaks of my father’s family, from potato farms in Northern Germany they migrated during the 19th Century Prussian diaspora to grow potatoes in Queensland’s South Burnett region.
You can find edible plants suitable for horta no matter where you live. Autumn is the best time of year in Australia to find Eurasian edible weeds. In most climate zones you can always find common weeds like Dandelion, Plantain, Purslane and Amaranth, with Fat Hen, Nettle and Mallow restricted to more temperate areas.
Important Note: Foraging can be dangerous. The Weed Foragers Handbook is a great introduction to identifying these plants. Each plant in this recipe is currently growing in Alchemy Garden at the National Art School and has been picked from my garden and a nearby park, because I know they are chemical free. Seek advice if you want to start foraging and always carry a book to identify plants if you are a novice. Why? The sister of a friend was recently in intensive care and her boyfriend in a coma due to misidentifying a poisonous plant.
But don’t worry! Any combination of edible leaves from the supermarket is also okay. Avoid Asian greens except Chinese broccoli.
Tip: younger leaves are always more tender (think spinach, rocket). Mature leaves are tough and require longer cooking time to break down fibres (think common kale, cavolo nero/black kale).
What you will need
3-4 medium size potatoes (Dutch Cream are good)
500 ml water
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon for juice
A small handful of tough or tender leaves, i.e.:
Broad Leaf Plantain (Plantago major)
Narrow Leaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolate)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Native Rosella (Hybiscus heterophullus)
Green/Slender Amaranth (Amaranthus viridis)
Purslane / Pigweed (Portulaca oleracea)
Butter Dock (Rumex obtusifolius)
Sow Thistle (Sonchas oleraceus)
1. Make mashed potato to your preferred method. (You can search online for some great recipes or you can ask a friend.) Leave the mash to sit in pot for reheating later. Reheated mash really suits this dish! Allow it to brown a little on the bottom like Bubble & Squeak, then leave to sit for 5-10 minutes so the brown flavour comes away if stuck to the pot.
2. Combine water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Add the tough leaves first to simmer for 15-20 minutes.
4. Add tender leaves and simmer for 1 minute only.
5. Serve into a bowl with lots of fresh ground pepper, olive oil and lemon juice and salt to taste.
6. You can serve the mash and horta together for a hearty soup style dish, or serve separately with Mediterranean condiments and crusty bread for a slow rustic style tapas meal.
For the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Andrew Rewald presents Alchemy Garden, a response to the climate crisis. It's an interactive community collaboration and garden developed at the National Arts School in Sydney - the site of the former Darlinghurst Gaol, which has a dense and layered history, dating from pre-invasion Indigenous land use to the present.
Explore more of Andrew Rewald's Alchemy Garden at the National Art School.
We’d love to see how you use these resources at home. Post your stories and photos with the hashtag #NIRINatHome.