The Promise of Purslane & Salt-Pickled Recipe
Are you quick to grab a shovel at the mere mention of purslane for fear it will overrun your garden? If you nodded your head “yes” as you read that, might we suggest taking a second to rethink your attack?
This semi-succulent annual not only boasts the highest-yet-measured levels of omega-3 fatty acids (hello, health benefits!) in a plant it also happens to be an excellent ingredient in many summer dishes. Purslane and Bean Salad. Purslane and Peach Soup. The ideas are endless!
Still not sold? Try your hand at this Salt-Pickled Purslane Leaves recipe, and we’ll bet you’ll change your mind!
The following excerpt is from Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen. It has been adapted for the web.
Other common names: Portulaca, pigweed
Botanical name: Portulaca oleracea
Status: Annual weed
Where: Widespread on disturbed ground, in agricultural fields, and gardens
Parts used: Tender stems, leaves, buds, and green seed capsules
Tastes like: Succulent baby spinach, with some sourness
Most gardeners and farmers attack purslane when it infiltrates their domain. This is a shame.
The sprawling semi-succulent annual boasts the highest-yet-measured levels of omega-3 fatty acids in a plant. In my vegetable garden I transplant opportunistic purslane volunteers into tidy rows. I also grow ‘Golden’ purslane from seed. I know. Nuts.
Native Americans knew about purslane and used it fresh and cooked. On the other side of the Atlantic, Romans devoured it, BCE. It remains a well-known vegetable around the Mediterranean. And other North Americans are well informed: verdolagas (Spanish for “purslane”) are appreciated in Mexico, and routinely eaten.
The common purslane we know as a weed has uncertain origins. Asia? North Africa? And while it is thought to be a post-Columbian immigrant to North America, archaeological records have shown evidence of purslane seeds and pollen here as far back as 750 CE.
In the 1840s Henry David Thoreau was feasting on it in his Walden Pond cabin in Concord, Massachusetts. “I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted. I give the Latin on account of the savoriness of the trivial name,” he wrote in Walden, published in 1854. What does “satisfactory on several accounts” mean? For a man who wrote a lot, he does not elaborate.
There are many ways purslane can be enjoyed, cooked, but boiling it is not on my list. Generally speaking, it is at its most appealing raw, with a crisp texture and faint sourness. These attributes work well with softer ingredients like ripe peaches, creamy mozzarella, and even roasted bone marrow (as a relish purslane assuages guilt and cuts the fat). Processed until smooth it lends a fullness to raw soups and green sauces. It is an edible tonic.
As with some other vegetables (Japanese knotweed, sheep sorrel), purslane’s vivid color fades with heat, and it also turns slightly mucilaginous. In Cape Town, porseleinbredie was a traditional Cape Malay dish, a slow stew made with lamb and succulent purslane leaves. And C. Louis Leipoldt, a lauded South African poet and food writer (before there was such a thing), as well as a medical doctor and amateur botanist, liked his porseleinblaar stewed with butter and mace and pounded to a paste.
I think the Romans would relate.
How to Collect and Prepare
You can pick purslane leaves the minute they are recognizable, as seedlings. On more mature plants the stems can also be eaten as long as they are tender (older stems are fibrous). If you can pinch the stem off between forefinger and thumbnail, it is tender enough to eat. The fat, unripe seed capsules are pleasantly succulent morsels. If you do not want purslane to spread, pick those before they release their seeds.
Purslane’s flavor can be variable, as I learned from wild foods author John Slattery, author of Southwest Foraging: “If you gather it in the morning it will have more malic acid, and therefore be tangy in taste,” he writes. “Gathered in the afternoon it will be sweeter . . . as the malic acid is transformed into glucose.” I like it tangy.
Increasingly, purslane is showing up at farmers markets in late summer. When my own crop becomes too leggy, that is where I find a fresh supply. It has often wilted by the time it is sold and I plunge it into a large bowl of cool water until it has revived, snacking on the leaf tips while I wait.
Salt-Pickled Purslane Leaves
Makes 1⁄2 cup (about 30 g) after wilting
A quick salt pickle yields tangy leaves that can be used immediately in endless variety. Scatter them on toasted sourdough and drizzle with olive oil, top them with a warm egg, toss them with cold udon, dress them with toasted sesame oil and Prickly Ash Paste, add them to an omelet.
1 cup (40 g) purslane leaves
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
- Place the purslane in a small bowl with the salt.
- Massage it into the leaves.
- Add the chile and toss. Let sit for 45 minutes.
- Add water to the bowl, swoosh the leaves around, and drain.
- Turn them out onto a clean kitchen towel and roll into a sausage to dry.
- Unroll and fluff them up.
- They are ready.
As the trees lose their leaves and autumn slowly turns to winter, those first inklings of true cold can be daunting. What better way to stay warm and positive than a festive gathering centered around good food and drink? Here we offer culinary inspiration for the season: Spicebush Duck Legs from Marie Viljoen’s Forage, Harvest,…Read More
Have you ever wanted to try out exotic and rare types of cheeses, made non-traditionally? Well you might not be able to if the FDA has anything to say about it! Non-traditional cheesemaking using raw milk is under attack for all the wrong reasons, and it has sparked a revolution of cheese-lovers to stand up…Read More
It may seem as though Thanksgiving dinner gets all the attention what with the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, but the reality is, dessert is where it’s at. Warm apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese (don’t knock it till you try it!), perfectly moist cakes with delectable frostings, pumpkin cheesecake…we could go on…Read More
If you’re looking for something new and different to serve this Thanksgiving, Chef Evan Mallett of the Black Trumpet restaurant in Portsmouth, NH has some ideas. From his book, Black Trumpet, Mallett has selected three traditional, New England-inspired dishes that are sure to add some new flavors to your Thanksgiving feast. The following is an…Read More
Thanksgiving is a time for tradition, but are you tired of the same old side dishes taking up space on the table? Have you had enough cranberry sauce and stuffing that you can’t even look at them anymore? If you said yes, then your taste buds will be overjoyed with these wonderful new recipes from…Read More