Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kritama

Here's another wild, edible plant that grows along the rocky coasts of Greece (and certainly other parts of the Mediterranean as well) alongside the flowering caper plants. In Greek it's called kritama and it tastes very unique; its succulent leaves are naturally salty with notes of celery and citrus zest. I really love it. My Greek Horta cookbook explains that this plant is hardly ever harvested anymore, which I think is rather a shame.
Every summer I pick about a pound and put it up in jars. As you can see in the photo, I like to pick the last 5 leaves at the tips of the stoutest, pudgiest plants. The recipe goes something like this:

1 pound kritama
dry white wine to cover
a pinch of salt*
3-4 bay leaves

* The leaves, eaten raw are salty enough but once they're boiled in the wine they need a bit more salt for flavor and it couldn't hurt their shelf-life after jarring.
I bring the wine to a boil and add the kritama leaves, the salt and the bay leaves. I boil some clean glass jars in water. After 10 minutes of boiling, the kritama leaves are ready to be jarred. I take a jar out of the boiling water and spoon some kritama and wine into it, the seal tightly, and set upside-down until it cools to room temperature, then repeat with the other jars.

One pound of kritama makes enough small jars to serve as an appetizer along with the house olives at the occasional Greek dinner party. Because I was taught to be really selective in my kritama picking (only the last 5 leaves from the fattest plants, I've passed a lot of kritama by in my time) I was really surprised to find this dish served as a vegetable, not a tiny appetizer at the restaurant in Labinou town, Pelion. Here's their version, dropped into boiling water, boiled until tender and served simply with salt, pepper, white wine vinegar and really good olive oil. I have a lot more to say about this restaurant that seems to specialize in old-fashioned peasant food. It's really neat because the dishes at this place are hard to find anywhere else. Music to eat the rare Greek delicacy, kritama by: "So Unusual" by Jason Mraz.

10 Comments:

Blogger Christina said...

I am really enjoying your Greek food, especially the "found" food, posts. I learn something new almost every time I stop by here nowadays. Now, just where can I get my hands on some kritama? Hmmmm.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Maddy said...

Who knew that so many of the plants I was tromping all over in Greece were edible?

Oh, right, the Greeks knew. Looks yummy!

3:02 AM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

looks like a really tasty and unusual way to eat your greens!

3:18 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Christina, I wonder if kritama grows on rocky Pacific coasts. I've seen it in Greece and in Italy.

HI Maddy, Oh yeah! When Gabriel and I spent a month in Greece in March, 2003, the beginning of the Iraq war, (with a very dark, apocalyptic mindset) we decided that Greece would be the best place to be if another world war broke out just because most anything growing around you is edible.

Hi Melissa, It is unusual.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Celia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:28 AM  
Blogger Figs Olives Wine said...

How unbelievable! How much have I passed up that I should have nibbled while walking by? This sounds so delicious, and I still kick myself that I didn't know I should be eating caper leaves.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Figs, Well the caper leaves have yet to be tested. They're supposed to be left alone for 8 months before you touch them, so I'll let you know in April ;)

8:37 PM  
Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

wow! this looks really good! and flowering caper plants too? say no more...i want to go to greece!

10:51 AM  
Blogger Laurie Constantino said...

Great post, about a wonderful plant. In English kritima is called rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum). As in Greece, its use is sadly dying out.

One of my favorite pieces of rock samphire trivia is its mention in Shakespeare's King Lear. In Act 4, Scene 6, the characters are arrive at the cliffs of Dover, and one mentions that how the samphire gatherers hang off the cliffs to gather the plant:

"Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen, that walk upon the beach,
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminished to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight: the murmuring surge,
That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more;
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.

Thanks again for the very interesting post.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

Just found this blog post after much searching for information on whether Samphire grows in Greece.

I live on Kefalonia and have been seeing a plant I suspected was samphire but was too cautious to try it in case it was not and might be poisonous!

Could you be wonderful and add some more photos - maybe with the flowers - for better identification?

Is there any species of plant similar that may be mistaken for it and do any harm on eating it?

Is there any time in the year when it is best harvested?

I am keen to harvest this as I love samphire - the turning point was finding that it is called kritama in greek.

10:56 AM  

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