Weeds: It’s What’s For Dinner!
Purslane, found in roadside garden plot on my street
July 3 & 4, 2009
I wrote in my introduction to the section on foraging that we’d be eating stuff I found on my hikes. I should have included “… And walks around my neighborhood.” Because I’m probably never going to find purslane in the woods – but there’s plenty of it growing out of the cracks in our sidewalks! Mmmm, delicious sidewalk weeds…
No, I’m not joking.
Says Wildman Steve Brill: “A succulent, sprawling plant of lawns and meadows; flowers inconspicuous, 1/5 inch wide, five yellow petals tucked between the branches, mid-summer to fall; fruit capsules up to 1/4 inch long, filled with tiny, round, black seeds; leaves paddle-shaped, succulent, stalkless 1/2 to 2 inches long, alternate or opposite; stem reddish, succulent, branching, creeping, 4-10 inches long.
Purslane is one of my favorite summer vegetables, with a mild, sweet-sour flavor and a chewy texture. Its reddish stem, nearly as thick as a computer cable, creeps along the ground, rarely getting taller than a pint of milk. The stalkless leaves are paddle shaped, about as long as a small paper clip.”
Mmmm, delicious sidewalk paper clip weeds.
I’m still not joking. Purslane comes from India, where it was a food crop centuries ago. It was Gandhi’s favorite food. Now it also grows across America, and around the world. It has a wonderful survival tactic: The succulent (juicy) stem, keeps it from drying out. If someone decides purslane is a “weed” and uproots it, it uses the water in the stem to make seeds before it dies, and soon there’ll be even more purslane. Crazy!
But perhaps not as crazy as my walking down the street with a little plastic bag and a camera. If those neighbors saw me, they surely now think I’m insane. (Or a thief, as their bed full of purslane very well might have been kept that way for their own salads. Yet I somehow doubt that.)
I picked a bunch and washed it thoroughly. Hoang, the coolest wife ever, actually didn’t think the whole idea was too weird. First up, I made a simple little raw purslane salad. I simply chopped it up, threw in some salt, pepper, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. I wasn’t afraid to eat it at all – as this stuff was grown as a crop on purpose in India and other countries for years.
Wow, this stuff is really good. It has a slightly nutty flavor akin to arugula and the snappy stems provide a nice counter balance to the leaves. I was hooked. I pretty much at the entire bowl seen here – and yes, Hoang enjoyed several forkfuls as well.
English medieval cooks and gardeners loved purslane. The ancient Greeks made a bread flour from purslane seeds and pickled its fleshy stems; Greek country cooks now serve purslane as a salad herb, either alone or with other khorta (wild greens). On Mexican tables, the hot, peppery bite of cooked purslane is enjoyed with eggs and pork, while Chinese cooks value its sharp flavor and slightly slippery quality with noodles.
Closer to home, the FDA lists purslane as a pervasive weed (the 7th worst, worldwide) but to those of us who love its earthy, slightly acidic flavor and crisp, succulent stems and leaves, the word â€˜weedâ€™ hardly seems fair. Purslane is simple to grow and there are several varieties available to the gardener – the two best culinary ones are both summer herbs, portulaca oleracea (green purslane) and portulaca sativa (golden purslane).
But we weren’t finished yet. We had a July 4th family gathering to put together and what better way to celebrate our independence than with weed salad? Hoang whipped up an excellent curry potato salad with purlsane. Here’s the recipe:
Purslane Potato Salad with Curry Serves 4 – 6
Since purslane is such a popular food in India, it just makes sense to spice up your purslane potato salad with a bit of curry. Mix the salad while the potatoes are still warm (not hot!) and theyâ€™ll soak up more of the flavors of the salad.
3 cups potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks, and boiled just until tender.
3 stalks celery, minced
1-2 green onions and stems, diced
Â½ cup sliced bell pepper
2/3 cup raw purslane leaves
Â½ to 2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
While potatoes are still warm, add remaining ingredients and stir well to coat vegetables. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
We served it to Hoang’s family and everyone gobbled it up. We never told them that they were eating our neighbor’s weeds, though. Maybe next year.
A sampling of the Vietnamese portion of the holiday feast (plus the purslane potato salad!)
There’s a ton of information out there on this delicious, rather healthy herb/vegetable/weed thing. Hey, my man Thoreau wrote about it in Walden: “I learned from my two years’ experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one’s necessary food, even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner . . . simply off a dish of purslane ( Portulaca oleracea ) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted. . . . Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not for want of necessaries but for want of luxuries.”
So… So much more on purslane: