Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Eat Your Weeds

They're baaack! And I couldn't be happier. After suffering for many seasons with roof rats eating everything in sight in my garden (except for some reason my citrus, for which I'm so grateful), those nasty critters seem to be gone, or at least at bay. And, along with the veggies I've planted, which I'm actually harvesting (yet another sign), purslane has started appearing again.

You've probably seen purslane growing in cracks on your neighborhood street--or perhaps in your garden. You've probably also pulled them and tossed them in the trash thinking they're useless weeds.

Don't! Pull them, wash them, and eat them! They're delicious, have a long culinary tradition, and are even nutritious! Purslane actually has the most omega-3 fatty acids of any other green vegetable. Plus it's filled with high amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as moderate amounts of magnesium, potassium and calcium. 

Purslane is a trailing succulent herb with a thick stem and fleshy little leaves. Keep your eyes open for them because they're summer annuals. If you go to Hispanic markets, you'll probably see bunches of them there called verdolago. In fact, I've seen them at Northgate Market, as well as some farmers markets and Specialty Produce.

One word of warning, thanks to my friend Jeromie Jackson, who noted that foragers shouldn't confuse purslane with spurge, another weed that looks something like purslane. Here's a link to a blog that addresses this.

Purslane was also cultivated and eaten in ancient Egypt and classical Greece and Rome--known by the Romans as portulaca. And, it's also popular in the Middle East and India.

Why is purslane so well liked? Well, it has a terrific crunch and is just a little peppery in flavor. And you can do so much with it. Chop it and eat it raw tossed in a salad. Sauté purslane and add to an omelet. Bread it (dip in flour, beaten eggs, and then bread crumbs) and fry it for an interesting snack. Add to a sandwich or to tortillas. Create a Mexican-style vegetable soup with them, along with tomatillos and chiles.

In fact, in Mexico, purslane is eaten in omelets, sautéed as a side dish, rolled in tortillas or dropped into soups or stews. I have friends in Mexico who eat it all the time, prepared like spinach (steamed a few minutes with a little water, then drained and seasoned with a lot of lemon, salt and pepper). They tell me it's better a little al dente than too soft. Joe Rodriguez of Rodriguez Farms suggested sautéing it with onion, garlic and tomatoes as a side dish or cooking it with pork. It also pairs well with cucumbers and is a great addition to a traditional Middle Eastern fattoush salad, which would include large cut up pieces of cucumber, tomato and onion, mint, along with parsley and stale pita and tossed with olive oil.

You know what else? You can pickle purslane. And I'm all about pickling. Add pickled purslane to a charcuterie or cheese plate, a sandwich, to a green salad, or even potato salad. Or just snack on it.

Pickled Purslane
(printable recipe)

Ingredients1 quart purslane stems and leaves
1 quart apple cider vinegar (or leftover pickle juice)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
10 peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1. Clean the purslane stems and leaves by rinsing with fresh water. 
2. Cut into one-inch pieces and place in clean jars with lids. 
3. Add the spices and pour the vinegar over the purslane. 
4. Keep this in the refrigerator and wait at least two weeks before using. Serve as a side dish with omelets and sandwiches.

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