Wild leafy greens

Chef Amos Sion of Helena in the Port restaurant in Caesarea has prepared a menu using seasonal herbs.

Wild leafy greens (photo credit: Avi Sion and Revital Dekel)
Wild leafy greens
(photo credit: Avi Sion and Revital Dekel)
If you travel around Israel these days, you’ll be delighted to see all the new green carpets covering areas that were previously brown and yellow. Among the grass and flowers growing rapidly in the fields are many wild herbs, which have been used for in local cuisines for centuries. Now is the time to look for those fresh and truly original Israeli produce at its best.
Much as we are now rediscovering local ingredients and flavors such as olive oil, tehina, eggplant and other foods that have recently found their way into local gourmet restaurants, it is time to unveil the secret of cooking with the local wild herbs and fruit.
Chef Amos Sion of the Helena in the Port restaurant in Caesarea has prepared a seasonal menu that makes use of herbs that are ready to be used this time of year, changing the way they are used in the traditional kitchens and using them in his own special way. Sion believes that there should be a connection between the soil and the food we eat. Rediscovering authentic ingredients that have been used for cooking in our area for decades, such as wild herbs, will take the Israeli cuisine a step forward toward a regional cuisine, much like regional cuisines that are being developed in other parts of the world.
Among the wild herbs he is introducing at his restaurant this month are the gundelia (akub-kotz), cyclamen leaves, wild spinach, wild mustard and many more. They may be weeds to those who like to go for walks, but not many know how to cook them.
If you choose to pick your own, make sure that you recognize the plant and know for sure it is not poisonous. Choose young leaves, wash the plant very well and do not pick all the leaves – so as not to kill the plant but let it regenerate and flourish.STUFFED WILD JERUSALEM SAGE Makes 4 servings
The leaves of the sage plant are wide, and it is at its peak right now. If you can’t find them, you can replace them in the recipe chard or wild spinach.
1 bunch Jerusalem sage 1⁄2 cup dark raisins 1⁄2 cup pine nuts 1 cup friki (smoked green wheat) 1 onion, chopped 4 cups broth or water Olive oil 2 onions, sliced 1⁄2 cup lemon juice 1 tsp. baharat 1 tsp. salt 1 bunch parsley, chopped
Remove the stems of the sage leaves, blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds and immediately place in ice water to stop cooking.
Fry the chopped onion in olive oil, add the baharat, friki, pine nuts and parsley. Add 11⁄2 cups of boiling broth or water, season, cover and cook over low heat about 8 minutes.
Let cool. Add the raisins and roll into small cigar-shaped tight rolls. To roll: Fold the wide side towards the center and then roll.
Line the bottom of a heavy pot with slices of onion. Arrange the stuffed leaves closely together in layers, and sprinkle the raisins between the layers.
Fill the pot with broth or water to cover the stuffed leaves and top with lemon juice and a little olive oil. Bring to a gentle boil, cover with an upside-down plate and the lid. Simmer on low heat for 50 minutes.
The akub (gundelia) is a thorn that grows wild in the Galilee but is now also grown in small amounts and is available for a short time in the markets. It is crucial to wash it well before cooking.
1⁄2 kilo peeled akub, sliced into 2-cm. slices 150 gr. sheep’s feta cheese 2 onions, sliced thinly 1 tsp. sugar 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 bunch parsley, leaves only White pepper Salt to taste 4 eggs 3 Tbsp. olive oil Green onion
Sauté the onions in oil until golden, add sugar and a little white pepper. Add akub, cover with water, season with salt and cook for half an hour or until the akub is tender and the sauce thickens. Carefully break in the eggs into the pan, crumble the cheese over the eggs and cook covered until the yolks are a little settled and the cheese begins to melt. Serve hot with bread.HUBEZA AND RICOTTA TORTELLINI Makes 2-4 servings
The hubeza (halamit in Hebrew, or mallow in English) is a wild pink flower that is very common in Israel, growing in the fields but also in the city, in backyards and on the side of the road. The leaves can be cooked much like spinach.
For the pastry:
1 cup flour (use semolina or durum) 1 level tsp. salt 1 egg 1 Tbsp. olive oil
For the stuffing:
1⁄2 kg. hubeza (or spinach) leaves, chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 Tbsp. olive oil 200 gr. ricotta cheese White pepper and salt for seasoning Nutmeg Olive oil Cloves of small green garlic, sliced. If not available, replace with a few dry garlic cloves or a small bunch of garlic chives. Parmesan cheese, grated
Place all pastry ingredients in the food processor bowl and blend until crumbles form. Remove from bowl and continue kneading by hand until pastry forms. Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out the pastry to a very thin sheet.
To prepare filling: Reserve 1⁄2 cup of the chopped leaves and sauté the rest and the garlic in olive oil until tender. Place in a strainer to drain until cooled. Mix with ricotta, white pepper and nutmeg and season with salt.
Cut out rounds in the pastry, using a glass or cookie cutter. Place a heaping tsp. of filling in the center of each round and shape into tortellini.
Cook the tortellini in boiling salted water only until they float to the surface.
In a frying pan, sauté garlic slices in olive oil for 1-2 minutes. Remove the tortellini from the water and place in the skillet with oil and garlic. Stir gently. Add the reserved chopped hubeza leaves, sauté together for 1 minute and serve with Parmesan cheese.GREEN SALAD WITH BEETROOT AND MOZZARELLA Makes 2-4 servings
1 head lettuce; use only light green inner leaves 8 hubeza leaves (or very young, tender vine leaves) 5 small celery leaves 8 parsley leaves 5 basil leaves 1 roasted or pre-cooked beetroot, cubed 1 orange, segmented 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced. Discard the hard part in the middle 10 green almonds, unpeeled. If not available, use dry almonds 1 large ball of fresh mozzarella 1⁄2 red chili For the dressing:
1 Tbsp. honey 2 garlic cloves 7 hubeza leaves (or small vine leaves) Juice of 1 lemon Salt 6 Tbsp. olive oil
Place all the dressing ingredients except the oil in a food processor bowl. Set the processor on low and drizzle the oil in slowly while mixing until dressing is smooth.
Tear the greens into bite-size pieces and toss together with orange, fennel and almonds in a salad bowl. Pour the dressing on top and toss again. Tear mozzarella into bite-size pieces, place on top of the salad and serve.
AMBERJACK TARTARE WITH GREEN FAVA, CHARD AND SUMAC Chard can be replaced with arugula or watercress
100 gr. amberjack, cubed (called Inthias in Israel) or other white fish 1 tsp. sumac 1 Tbsp. roasted pine nuts 1 bunch arugula or chard leaves Juice of 1 lemon 1⁄2 cup green fava beans, blanched Salt 2 Tbsp, yogurt (sheep’s or goat’s) 2 Tbsp. olive oil
Toss together all the ingredients except the yogurt. Place yogurt on a serving dish and spread with the back of a spoon.
Heap the fish and leaf mixture on the yogurt, drizzle a little olive oil on top and serve.  Recipes and photos courtesy of chef Amos Sion and Helena in the Port restaurant in Caesarea