The first time we encountered purslane it came as a garnish on our plates at a fancy restaurant in southwest France. The pretty, oval leaves were tender, succulent and tasty. The waiter said it was pourpier, the French word for the green. We figured it must be expensive, as the chef had placed only a few leaves on the edge of each plate.
In Paris we did not come across traditional French dishes made with purslane.
Marion Nazet, author of Mise Lipeto, a book on seasonal old-fashioned Provencal cuisine, writes that the refreshing herb is added to green salads and to potato salad with black olives and is used in cooked dishes as well. Like many vegetables, purslane can be made into a gratin: the cooked greens are sauteed briefly in olive oil with onion and diced anchovies, mixed with grated cheese, egg yolks and bread that was soaked in milk, and baked with a sprinkling of cheese. To make purslane into a simple green soup, Nazet sautees it in butter or margarine with diced potatoes before adding boiling water or broth, salt and nutmeg. Then she presses the soup through a food mill.
In California we came across purslane again at Mexican supermarkets, where it is labeled with its Spanish name, verdolaga.
When we asked shoppers how they use it, most said that they add it to meat stews for the last few minutes of cooking. According to Rick Bayless, author of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, this commonly eaten Mexican green is frequently cooked with tomato sauce and meat. He cooks the purslane for a few minutes with potatoes, fried onions, garlic, fresh chilies, fresh coriander and tomatillos (tart husk tomatoes) to serve as a vegetable dish or a taco filling, or combines this purslane and potato preparation with stewed meat or chicken.
Over the years we have enjoyed purslane’s delicate, tangy taste and pleasing texture in our salads and occasionally in soups. When we learned how healthful it is, we were motivated to use it often. “Based on the information available from... our studies, purslane... is the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids of any green leafy vegetable yet examined,” writes Artemis P. Simopoulos, author of The Omega Plan, in an article in Biological Research. To obtain this valuable nutrient, experts usually advise to eat fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines, and we were pleased to know that there is a good vegetable source as well.
On a recent visit to Istanbul we dined at a restaurant called Pirpirim, which means purslane. The restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Gaziantep, a city near the Syrian border where this herb is a signature ingredient and which we had visited because it is known as the gastronomic capital of Turkey. At Pirpirim, purslane garnished just about every appetizer. It was added to a starter similar to Israeli salad and was made into a yogurt salad, for which the lightly cooked herb is mixed with butter-sauteed onion. Some Turkish cooks simmer purslane in a hearty stew with wheat berries, lentils, chickpeas, meat, tomatoes, peppers and pepper paste. Others use the herb as a filling for thin pancakes and in su-borek, the baked casserole that resembles savory noodle kugel or lasagne.
When I lived in Jerusalem, I didn’t realize that purslane, a member of the portulaca family, was a sidewalk weed. Liz Steinberg, who blogs at food.lizsteinberg.com, writes that in the summer, “you’ll find it growing between the cracks in the pavement, sucking up the water from dripping air conditioners above the street,” but she told me she prefers to buy hers at her greengrocer at the shuk. Purslane grows wild in the back yard of food blogger Sarah Melamed (sarahmelamed.com), and she told me that she has come across it at Arab markets.
Although food blogger Miriam Kresh (israelikitchen.com) has seen purslane for sale at high-end health food stores, organic markets and at the Carmel Market, she wrote to me that she feels buying it is silly, “because most of us can gather as much purslane as we can eat right outside our doors in summer, like dandelions in the States. It even sprouts in my window boxes. Whatever I weed out – and it spreads prolifically if you don’t control it – I’ll put into salads or sandwiches.”
Purslane, tomato and cucumber salad
Purslane is highly perishable and should be used within three days of purchase. Some people use only the purslane leaves but, like many cooks in the Middle East, I use the thin, tender stems as well.
If you don’t have purslane and would like to prepare this salad, substitute 21⁄2 cups baby spinach mixed with 1⁄2 cup sorrel, watercress or arugula. The taste will be different but good.
In Hebrew purslane is called riglat hagina and in Arabic it is rigla or bakleh.
Makes 3 or 4 servings
1 small garlic clove, finely minced or pressed
1 Tbsp. lemon juice Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 or 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
21⁄2 to 3 cups purslane sprigs and leaves
2 large or 4 medium tomatoes, ripe but firm, cut in bite-size pieces
3 small cucumbers, cut in thin half-slices
In a small bowl combine garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and 2 Tbsp. oil. Whisk to blend.
Trim bottoms and thicker stems of purslane. Cut rest of purslane in 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces. Mix with tomatoes and cucumbers. Add dressing and toss gently. Taste, adjust seasoning and add remaining olive oil if you like.
Purslane with rice salad and yogurt garlic sauce
This recipe is from The Sultan’s Kitchen. Author Ozcan Ozan writes that this unusual salad is served throughout the summer in Turkey.
The purslane is cooked with the rice, peppers and tomatoes, and the mixture is served cold.
Ozan recommends using the pale kind of green peppers to make the salad. He pours the yogurt-garlic sauce over the salad before serving but if you prefer, serve the sauce separately.
If you don’t have purslane, you can substitute sliced chard leaves.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 Tbsp. virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
1⁄4 cup finely chopped white parts of green onions
3 garlic cloves, chopped
450 gr. (1 pound) purslane leaves, with soft upper stems still attached
1⁄4 cup long-grain rice
2 green peppers, finely chopped (3⁄4 cup)
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (1 cup)
Yogurt-Garlic sauce (see Note below)
In a medium-size pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the green onions and garlic and cook them gently for about 2 minutes, or until they’re softened but not brown. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the purslane, rice, green peppers, tomatoes and 1 cup water. Season with salt. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Transfer the mixture to a serving platter and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Pour the yogurt-garlic sauce over it and serve chilled or at room temperature.
Note: Yogurt-Garlic Sauce: In a small bowl, whisk 11⁄2 cups plain yogurt, 4 minced garlic cloves and salt to taste until the mixture is very smooth. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the sauce for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavor of the garlic to blend with the yogurt