Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gardening/Food: Purslane is Green!

I often tire of the strange food trends that seem to grasp the country for months or years at a time, and then vanish, leaving the poor ingredient, who never did anything wrong, relegated to the shelf of 'dated ingredients'; where things like Jello-O molds, sun-dried tomatoes and canapes have been known to hang out. One trend I will be happy to see go the way of the feta (whose passing I still mourn) is arugula. I don't like the stuff, and it has gotten in the way of perfectly good salads, sandwiches and pastas in the past years. Maybe it's just an uncultured palate on my part (which I doubt, and will be happy to provide you with proof, if challenged), but the tough and decidedly un-tasty arugula is not my friend.

Recently, I have discovered an exceptional replacement: Purslane.

It's eaten more in the Middle East, and here, in America, it is considered an invasive weed. Which means, I thought, the likelihood of being able to snip it out of my own yard is relatively good. I could have culinary adventures, and rid the countryside (or, rather, city-side, but you get the gist) of this hated interloper. How Green! How Delicious!

AND it is ridiculously healthy -- a veritable Super Food! I have included a bit of the Wikipedia entry for purslane below, as its health benefits are so numerous I would just be exhausted after typing them all -- too exhausted to go out and forage.

You can also buy purslane at many nurseries, but I encourage you to plant it in a big pot on your patio as it is, as I stated above, highly invasive.

"Although purslane is considered a weed in the United States, it can be eaten as a leaf vegetable. It has a slightly sour and salty taste and is eaten throughout much of Europe, Asia and Mexico.[3][1] The stems, leaves and flower buds are all good to eat. Purslane can be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked like spinach, and because of its mucilaginous quality it is also suitable for soups and stews. Australian Aborigines used to use the seeds to make seedcakes.

Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular[4]) than any other leafy vegetable plant. Simopoulos states that Purslane has .01 mg/g of EPA. This is an extraordinary amount of EPA for land based vegetable sources. EPA is an Omega-3 fatty acid normally found mostly in fish, some algae and flax seeds. [5] It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, and some vitamin B and carotenoids), as well as dietary minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. Also present are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish betacyanins (visible in the coloration of the stems) and the yellow betaxanthins (noticeable in the flowers and in the slight yellowish cast of the leaves). Both of these pigment types are potent antioxidants and have been found to have antimutagenic properties in laboratory studies.[6]

100 grams of fresh purslane leaves (about 1 cup) contain 300 to 400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid. One cup of cooked leaves contains 90 mg of calcium, 561 mg of potassium, and more than 2,000 IUs of vitamin A."

Purslane, Meyer Lemon and Pear Salad with Kaffir Lime Vinnaigrette
From Gourmet 2003

For vinaigrette
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, 1 or 2 tough outer leaves discarded and root end trimmed
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1 small (1 1/2- to 2-inch) dried chile (preferably Thai)
  • 6 (2- by 1 1/4-inch) fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh chervil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

For salad
  • 1 Meyer lemon
  • 6 firm-ripe small Seckel pears (3/4 pound total)
  • 6 radishes, trimmed
  • 3/4 pound purslane, coarse stems discarded
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Fleur de sel to taste

  • Accompaniment: jasmine rice crackers
  • Special equipment: a Japanese Benriner or other adjustable-blade slicer


Make vinaigrette:
Cut peel, including white pith, from lemon with a small sharp knife. Working over a bowl to catch juices, cut lemon segments free from membranes, letting segments drop into bowl.

Crush lemongrass stalk with side of a heavy knife (to release oils), then thinly slice. Bring stock, lemongrass, and chile to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan. Cover pan and remove from heat, then let stand 20 minutes.

Return to a boil and add lemon segments with juice and lime leaves. Cover pan and remove from heat, then let stand 20 minutes more.

Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl, discarding solids, then return to saucepan and whisk in oil. Bring vinaigrette to a boil and whisk in cornstarch mixture, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 2 minutes. Cool completely. Whisk in herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

Make salad:
Using slicer, cut Meyer lemon (with skin) crosswise, pears lengthwise (discarding cores), and radishes lengthwise into very thin slices (about 1/16 inch thick) and transfer to a large bowl. Add purslane, oil, lemon juice, and fleur de sel and pepper to taste and toss gently.

Divide salad among 6 plates and spoon vinaigrette over and around each. Serve salads with jasmine crackers on the side.

Cooks' note: ·Vinaigrette (without herbs) can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature, then whisk in herbs just before serving.

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