Wild greens are eaten all over the Mediterranean, and, if you have a copy of my book you’ll know how much I like horta-the famous Greek conglomeration of foraged greens. For all intents and purposes, you can think of Tsigarelli (also known as horta tsigari) as it’s hot cousin, literally and figuratively.
I read about tsigarelli first in Glorious Foods of Greece by Diana Kochilas, a book Hank Shaw recommend I read after we we talked about our mutual love of lamb and goat earlier this year. Kochilas book is filled with things I’ve bookmarked to try, but tsigarelli was the first thing I made.
After reading about the dish in Kochila’s book, I browsed some of my other Greek books and found a different version in a book specifically on the food of Corfu (obscure culinary references like these are part of why I hoard my books).
The dish is reputedly from Corfu and, just like it’s cousin horta, is made with lots of wild greens. While typical horta is just cooked wild greens with tons of olive oil and fresh lemon, tsigarelli is more pointed, containing flavorings like red tomato or tomato paste, and, most importantly, hot (spicy) paprika. In the version I have for you here, I suggest adding both paprika and cayenne so you can control the heat.
Tsigarelli often calls for other seasonings too, which sets it apart from traditional horta that typically is only plants. I’ve seen alliums like onions and garlic of vary ages, as well as leeks used in the dish.
Along with more alliums than horta, tsigarelli also seems to often call for herbs, well, one herb in particular: handfuls of wild fennel fronds, which taste a bit stronger than the ones you might see at a grocery store, if that store carries whole fennel bulbs with their stems and fronds attached, which can be tough to find. I’ve also seen mint and / or dill used.
Wild Fennel Fronds
The most common “herb” has to be wild fennel fronds. Wild fennel is widespread in the Mediterranean and the fronds are mentioned repeatedly in Kochilas version of the dish, but are noticeably absent in the version from a kitchen in Corfu.
Kochilas seems pretty adamant about their presence in the dish and the subtle anise flavor they add, suggesting that the cook substitute a pinch of fennel seed and or a splash of ouzo if fresh wild fennel fronds are not available.
The version of the dish from Pasta Grannies I found also includes fennel fronds. I’ve tried the dish made with cultivated fennel fronds and without, and, at the risk of going against tradition a bit, I think it’s probably fine to make it with or without, as long as you’re adding a bunch of alliums and paprika, which are definitely present in every version I’ve seen.
I like a good bowl of weeds as much as the next forager, but I’m usually having them as a side dish to meat. There’s lots of dishes of greens and meat from around the world though, so it would be remiss of me to not mention that adding chunks of lamb, simmered until soft, then dried and fried crisp in oil makes for a great version, and a good, light entree.
- 16 oz mixed wild greens especially purslane, dandelions, and nettles, if available
- 2 large cloves garlic finely chopped or grated
- 1 small 4 oz white onion, diced
- 2 oz spring onions sliced ¼ inch
- 4 oz wild fennel greens stems removed
- small handful fresh chopped mint or dill optional but recommended
- 5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons mild paprika
- Pinch of cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- Kosher salt as needed for blanching and seasoning
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the greens and fennel or carrot leaves for 30 seconds to one minute, or until they’re tender and taste good to you. (Some greens may take longer to cook than others).
- Remove the greens to a tray, spreading them out to cool naturally. If your greens are longer than 3 inches, chop them roughly. Squeeze the greens of their water and reserve, it is ok if a little water still clings to some of them, as it will help the pan not dry out as they cook with the oil and onions.
- Meanwhile, cook the garlic in the oil until it begins to turn golden.
- Add the onions to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the paprika, cayenne or red pepper, mint or dill, along with a pinch of salt and cook a minute more. Add the greens, stir to coat with the oil, and adjust the seasoning for salt. Simmer the greens for 5-10 minutes more, when the greens are tender and taste good to you, serve warm or at room temperature, with lemon wedges on the side.
- To make the dish as pictured with lamb, take some lamb stew meat, season it with salt and pepper, cover with water and bring to a simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, about 1.5 hours. Cool the lamb, then pat dry. Brown the lamb in oil, seasoning with salt and pepper before serving, and arrange the hot, tender chunks of lamb on the finished dish of greens.