Greek greens and skorthalia

Greek greens and skorthalia

The temporary vegetable market in Corfu Town has been settled into its tented accommodation for several years now. The new, EU approved, Health and Safety compliant sheds stand on the original site, 98% completed; and the only thing stopping everyone moving back are the rates the council want to impose. It’s the same scenario all over Europe. The local market gardeners are squeezed out and all you have left are the importers, the grocers selling hydroponically grown tomatoes from Holland.

Not all the traders have succumbed to standardised vegetables: Eleni and her daughter Irena, for example, sell produce from Pelekas in the centre of the island.  I was about to leave the market without buying anything, but Eleni hustled me into a conversation (conversation is too grand a word for what happened, I keep inadvertently speaking Italian not Greek so she tried her version and between us confusion reigned) and that is how I had my first encounter with vletra. I am not sure that is how you spell it. It’s a type of horta, wild green, except that it isn’t often found in the wild, but volunteers in the veg patch. And if you know anything more about it, please let me know.

Anyway, Eleni’s method of serving vletra – or spinach when it comes to the rest of us – is to blanch the leaves, drain thoroughly, and then dress them in olive oil and lemon. So far, so standard; but she also likes to boil whole little courgettes and whole new potatoes and serve these three vegetables with skorthalia.

Now the trick with skorthalia is to remember it is a garlic and potato dip; not mashed potato flavoured with garlic.  It is best freshly made and still tepid.  I think making the mixture with still-hot potatoes cuts the sharpness of the raw garlic, but still allows a lovely warming pungency.

Eleni’s idea of serving this with courgettes is excellent – I halved and blanched 10 cm sized ones for 2 minutes so they still had a bit of bite and could plough through the dip without breaking.

8-10 cloves garlic, depending on size, skinned

1 teaspoon sea salt

150ml extra virgin olive oil

1kg potatoes, peeled and cubed

juice of one lemon

Crush the garlic with the salt to create a mush. Whisk this puree with the olive oil to make an emulsion. Boil the potatoes until tender, drain thoroughly, and blitz in a food processor, the engine running while you pour in the oil followed by the lemon juice – a bit like making mayonnaise. Add a little more oil if necessary and stop mixing when you have a smooth puree the consistency of hummus. Taste for garlicyness – add more if you fancy it!

This amount makes a good bowl full, serving 4 people as a side dish or lots more as a dip.

Another variation, a preference of Nikos Lekkas the local accountant, is to add 2 slices of 3 day old bread, crumbed, to the potatoes in the food processor. He adds even more garlic and treats himself every Friday so that his breath has two days to recover before meeting clients on Monday. Needless to say he loves it