How we’ve started ‘foodie foraging’ and a recipe for Wild Greens Pie
Foraging for wild edible food is a huge and popular tradition here in Montenegro! So many of our local friends know exactly where and what to pick in nearby woods and fields, from wild leafy greens like nettle and garlic to serve in a pie or soup, or herbs such as sage, thyme, mint and oregano. This year we’ve decided to follow in their footsteps!
This post is the first in a new blog series we’re calling “Undiscovered Tastes” and we’ll always include a recipe. Today our volunteer Beth is going to show you how to cook up Wild Greens Pie or ‘Zelena Pita’, a dish beloved throughout the Balkans (scroll down if you can’t wait for the recipe!).
Beth’s become our forager-in-chief, helping us identify so many wild edibles right in our garden at Villa Miela. We’re really getting into it and using a couple of brilliant plant-identifying apps for reference – PictureThis and iNaturalist. Future guests, expect to get roped in!
“With blooming flowers and the new growth of spring at Villa Miela, now is the perfect time to learn foraging – especially if you’re not a massive fan of dressing up like a bank robber every time you need to do a grocery run! It’s amazing what you can find on your doorstep if you know what to look for…I’ve noticed that many of the lush new leaves sprouting around Villa Miela’s gardens are actually edible!
Most abundant and easy to spot is garlic mustard, (also known as jack-by-the-hedge), rampaging through the shadier corners, emitting a subtle oniony garlic smell when disturbed. Although it can be an invasive weed it’s actually a super nutritious plant and most elements of it can be eaten in one way or another. The broad toothed leaves can be made into pesto or soup, popped in a fresh salad along with the flowers and pods, or mixed with other greens in a pie. The stems and roots can also be eaten before the first flower stalks appear (they tend to toughen up and become quite bitter afterwards), with the roots possessing a zingy horseradish flavour.
Common nettle as well as Purple dead-nettle are also in ample supply, scattered around the garden in dense swathes with the later sprouting pretty purple flowers, giving some lovely spring colour to the grounds. Dead-nettle is well known for its medicinal benefits and like garlic mustard the whole plant is edible. As nettles are high in antioxidants, iron and vitamins the leaves and stems are a great addition to smoothies, soups and salads or chopped up and sprinkled as a herb.
Lemon balm, common sorrel, woodland strawberry and mint are also to be found growing wild at Villa Miela and can be used in multiple ways, not to mention the abundance of delicious Mediterranean herbs. It’s really quite amazing what can be utilised when you slow down and look a little closer at what’s right in front of you!
Recipe for Wild Greens Pie – Zelena Pita sa Sirom
- 1 pack of pre-made filo pastry (or make your own!)
- Bunch of wild greens (nettles, garlic mustard, wild garlic etc)
- Olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 egg & a dash of milk, beaten
- 1 egg, beaten
- 250g farmhouse cheese, roughly diced (we used local domaći sir, but feta or ricotta are great alternatives)
- 3 sprigs fresh mint, leaves roughly chopped
- salt & pepper
- Grease a 22cm pie tin and begin layering the filo sheets. Brush olive oil on to each sheet before adding the next layer. Ensure that they drape over the edges of the tin. It’s a good idea to alternate angles of the sheets to make sure all the gaps are covered. Repeat this process until you have 8 sheets lining the tin.
- Soften the onion in a frying pan with a little oil, then add the garlic and season.
- While the onions and garlic are cooking, blanch the greens in boiling water for 4 minutes, then plunge in to a bowl of ice water to retain the lovely bright green colour. Leave to cool, then drain and roughly chop.
- In a large bowl add the beaten egg, cheese and mint leaves. Mix well, then add the greens, onions and a splash of olive oil. Combine thoroughly before spreading the mixture evenly in the filo case.
- Lastly, layer 3-4 more sheets on top of the pie, brushing olive oil between each layer then fold over the excess pastry that is overlapping the tin. Brush the top with the egg wash/milk mixture.
- Bake in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes.
If you’d like to learn how to forage for food in Montenegro, join one of our hosted multi-activity holidays at Lake Skadar National Park. We’ll be happy to share our secrets!