Cooking Horta Vrasta in Basque Country
Basque County is beautiful, sunny and picturesque even in winter. We are staying near an ancient farmhouse close to the town of Ea, sharing the space with a wonderful family. They are renovating the house and surrounding lands and invited us to stay and assemble a yurt with them. As well as the house and the yurt, there is lots of green space and opportunities to forage and find ingredients for Horta vrasta, a dish I have been eager to try out.
I have been very fortunate and participated in a lot of things I am passionate about during my stay. Mainly this has meant learning more about foraging and cooking. Kitchen facilities are limited in the van so it has been great to spend a bit of time with a proper oven and stove-top practicing new recipes!
I made a few batches of horta vrasta. Horta vrasta (commonly shortened to horta) means ‘cooked grasses’ and refers to a wide variety of foraged greens. Traditionally, the varieties you use are dependant what is growing in the fields locally. Commonly purslane, nettles and mustard greens but also the more recognisable water cress, silverbeet and spinach can make an appearance in the dish. I made my horta vrasta from daffodil, lamb’s lettuce and stinging nettles, all growing wild and locally on the farm.
Stinging nettles have a lot of iron in them after some cooking, if you are prepared to spend a bit of time working around their stings. This time of year in Basque Country, only take the top few centimetres of nettle growth, the new shoots and the smaller leaves. This is because the older growth will have a bitter, gross taste. I use a sharp pair of scissors and a rubber gauntlet-style glove to pick off the best leaves and shoots.
Tips for picking dandelions; as with the stinging nettles, I only picked the newer leaves this time of year, plucking leaves shorter than my hand out from the centre of the dandelion plant. I could only find a small amount of lamb’s lettuce, and pinched the tops off the plants I did find to add to the greens. I also found a few chives and threw them in one of the batches.
My horta vrasta recipe; (serves 4-5)
Big bunch of greens; I use two canvas bags full of nettles and dandelions
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Prepare the nettles, wash the greens well.
Get two litres of water on the boil, add two teaspoons of salt and the greens. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
Strain and ice the greens to bring the temperature down so you can immediately refrigerate.
Strain the greens a second time and squeeze the juice out further with your hands.
Mix the oil with the greens, cover and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Just before serving, squeeze the juice of half the lemon onto the greens and stir in. Serve with the other half of the lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.
Delicious, healthy, local, fresh, free! Horta is a simple side that goes with fish, quiche, fried mushrooms, potato pancakes…takes a bit of planning to make in time for the main meal but you can also make a large batch to eat for leftovers the following day. Lots of options for this versatile and nutritious side dish!