For years I'd been battling the red-stemmed, succulent-like weed with the fat, oval leaves, wondering what in the heck kind of invader it was. It wasn't particularly hard to pull out, but it was pretty darn persistent, coming back every year like those door-to-door fundraising dudes with their clipboards. I'd seen it in other people's yards, too, even growing out of the most inhospitable cracks in the sidewalk.
Purslane in a grain salad.
Then, out at Ayers Creek Farm one day, I saw its familiar shape and made some kind of smart remark to Anthony Boutard about needing to do a better job weeding his rows. First, never mention weeds to an organic farmer…the plant you're pointing at might be a valuable nitrogen-fixing cover crop for soil improvement or be providing shade for a sprout that's just peeking out of the soil. He informed me that the "weed" I was disparaging was purslane, one of the bonus crops he sells at the farmers' market, along with other field greens like chickweed, lamb's quarters and more.
Purslane in buttermilk soup.
In Theo's, a Greek restaurant in the town of Penticton in British Columbia's Okanagan wine region, I saw purslane offered as a salad on the menu and pointed it out to Dave. The owner overheard us, and came over to tell the remarkable story of how his mother, Mary Theodosakis, was walking through a farmer's field and saw it growing under a plant in one of his rows. Having grown up foraging the plant called glistritha in her native Crete, she asked the surprised farmer if she could take some to serve at her restaurant. Long story short, the farmer started growing it just for her and then, when her customers began asking where they could buy some, he began growing it as a cash crop. (Full story here.)
Crunchy when fresh, with a mild, lemony flavor, it's most often used in salads, either as the main ingredient or combined with other greens and grains—try this terrific main dish recipe for tuna, grain and purslane salad. My friend Linda Colwell follows Deborah Madison's lead and includes it in a buttermilk and frikeh soup. Anthony likes to do a quick and easy pickled purslane (recipe below) that keeps in the fridge and can be featured on an antipasto platter or as an accompaniment to grilled meats.
Incredibly high in omega-3 fatty acids—more than any other vegetable—it's also a great source of beta-Carotene, with five times the vitamin E of spinach, according to an article by my friend Leslie Kelly. No wonder it's starting to get some buzz as the new Superfood.
From Anthony Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm
Our staff keeps a nice kitchen garden outside of their front doors. For them, the plants they call verdolagas are an essential green. They are delicious boiled, sautéed, pickled or as a salad. The Lebanese serve them with yoghurt. The French salt purslane overnight before adding it to a salad. Boiled, it can be dressed with a bit of olive oil and ground pepper. Or mix the wilted leaves into a potato salad.
For us, purslane is an essential pickle. Many books suggest pickling just the stem. We prefer to pickle the whole shoot—leaves and stem together. This recipe works for two or three bags of purslane:
We heat and add a tablespoon of salt to 1-1/2 cups of water, then mix in an equal amount of white wine vinegar. Add a few cloves of garlic, quartered, a tablespoon of peppercorns and a dried pepper. Drop the purslane into the heated vinegar mixture and let it wilt for a bit. Pack the purslane and vinegar mix in a mason jar. If you need to, top off with vinegar and water in equal proportions. Store in the refrigerator. We start using them about an hour later, but they will keep for several months. Some recipes call for full strength vinegar, but we much prefer it diluted.