A Taste of Palestine: Traditional Hedge mustard greens recipe (Hwerneh)

One of my favorite things about winter here is all the wonderful herbs and vegetables that pop up in the market and are only to be enjoyed at this time of the year.

Hedge mustard (hwerneh in Arabic ) is one of those winter gems that are treasured in Palestine.

hedge mustard greens plant

What is hwerneh or hedge mustard?

It is a wild plant that grows in late winter/early spring in the Mediterranean. You can usually find it near streams and in areas that get a lot of rain. People used to pick it up while foraging (they still do actually) but you can also find it in grocery stores nowadays.

What does hedge mustard taste like?

Hedge mustard or hwerneh has a sharp peppery taste with a slightly bitter afternote when eaten as is. In Palestinian cuisine, those bitter peppery notes are toned down using a special preparation technique. Hedge mustard (hwerneh) is washed thoroughly, cut into strips, massaged with a bit of salt and set aside to allow the salt to draw out the bitterness. After a day in the fridge, all the bitter fluids are squeezed out and then hedge mustard is mixed with yogurt and enjoyed with a drizzle of olive oil.

preparing hedge mustard greens

Why go through all this trouble? you may ask!

Well first of all, once treated and fermented in yogurt hedge mustard has a brilliant unique taste (the longer you allow it to stay in the yogurt,the more complex the flavor becomes)
Added to that, traditionally it has been used to treat colds, soar throat and many other diseases due to the fact that it is rich in Vitamin C among other elements. It was considered a staple to enjoy in the winter to ward off diseases. Hedge mustard and its health benefits are known in many countries around the Mediterranean. In Italy, it is called the singer’s plant and Opera singers have always sung its praises as a miracle remedy for throat disorders. 

If you live in the Middle East, try to look this up in the market at this time of the year and give it a go, I promise you will be pleasantly surprised

Palestinian hedge mustard greens

How to prepare hedge mustard

  1. Wash hedge mustard thoroughly. You will need to wash it 4-5 times to get rid of the dirt that is usually on the leaves.
  2. Remove the thick stalks and keep the leaves and the tender stalks
  3. Cut the leaves and stalks into thin strips.
  4. Sprinkle generously with salt and massage the salt into the cut leaves
  5. Place in a strainer over a bowl and set aside (If you live in a hot place, place them in the fridge) for 6-8 hour. The leaves and stalks will wilt because the salt
  6. Take a fistful of the wilted leaves and using your hands, squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can. Repeat with the entire amount.
  7. To store the prepared hedge mustard. Place the squeezed hedge mustard in a freezer bag and store in the freezer
  8. When you are ready to eat it. Place a cup of the strained and squeezed hedge mustard in a 1 liter jar or bowl. Add 4 cups yogurt (preferably greek) and mix till homogenous.
  9. Place in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours (Preferably wait 2-4 days) to allow the hedge mustard to infuse the yogurt with its flavour and to ferment slightly. Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil . It is best enjoyed with warm pita bread