For the Love of Purslane
When my neighbor went to Turkey a few years ago, she was fortunate to spend time with a Turkish family, and taste true Turkish cuisine prepared at home. She also had a grand time at the Istanbul Bazaar and came back with amazingly fragrant spices, some of which she gifted me. She really enjoyed many vegetable dishes and was particularly intrigued by a vegetable she never had before… and had I ever heard of it? such a funny name: purslane?
I burst out laughing, and told her I’d bring her a big basket the following morning, wanted to harvest it when it was cool. Which I did. Fair is fair: a basket of “weeds” for a basket of spice.
Because, as you know, many Americans consider purslane (Portulaca oleracea) a weed. In fact, many don’t even know it’s edible. It’s a cousin of the ornamental moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora), sometime also called purslane. Don’t confuse the two when buying seeds (you are unlikely to find Portulaca oleracea plants for sale)
Yet – it is. It’s also nutritious, mild (vaguely lemony) & crunchy – and for me it grows when lettuce does not. In the garden, it’s an annual succulent. It self-sows (and how!) but does not germinates until it is quite warm. In poor soil, it can look “weedy” indeed. But in good garden soil, it becomes a handsome plant that hugs the ground. Pick often to delay flowering and to encourage more leaves.
Leaves, stalks, buds, flowers and seeds are all edible. But the younger, firmer, leaves are preferable – so pinch out shoots to harvest (and encourage branching at the same time). I dislike the texture of the tiny seeds, so I swish my harvest in a large bowl of cold water to dislodge the seeds that sink to the bottom of the bowl.
A cultivated “improved” version of purslane exists. The pale-golden green leaves are fleshier than the ones growing wild in my garden, but also more fragile and the plant is not as robust. I prefer the unimproved version.
So how do you eat purslane?
Eat it raw. Throw it with any summer salad. I serve it in cucumber salads, savory melon salads, tomato salads, corn salads, – and it’s also particularly nice in potato salad (with or without bacon). You get the idea: it’s versatile. I also use it as a green crunchy garnish in fajitas or sandwiches. And here is a really pretty recipe with other herbs and flowers. Or check out this page from Food52 if you want more ideas.
Pickle it – that is: lacto-ferment it by itself or in your kraut. Farmstead Ferments in Charlottesville is currently brewing a batch of summer kraut which includes purslane.
Stir fry it, stew it, steam it, bake it. Whatever. It’s good. It has a slight mucilaginous quality – the same as okra, but much less. So.. if yu don’t like that, you should probably stick to raw.
Or you can mix it with whatever other greens are growing in the garden at the moment and make a “green” pie (use your favorite pie or tart crust – either open tart or covered pie) or a hortapita with phyllo dough.
Try it in soup, as in this squash blossom soup recipe or in stew – as in this Mexican pork & purslane stew. It’s not surprising that purslane is used in Mexico, the plant followed on the heels of the Spanish conquistadors.
You’ll find it in country dishes all around the Mediterranean (but particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean), Mexico as well as in India and Pakistan.
Purslane can be difficult to track in the market, so you may have to grow it. It ain’t hard… and it will pay back handsomely. For years.