In Pursuit of Purslane

Purslane, aka verdolagas in Spanish, is a delicious wild edible, a ground creeper and hugely underutilized where I live in Victoria. Succulent and tart with a flavour similar to cactus paddles (nopales), or sea asparagus without the saltiness, it’s fantastic in salads and curiously found in many cuisines of the world – Mexico and throughout the Middle East for example.

A few years ago, I enjoyed an unforgettable dish of purslane with Greek designs at a Chicago area restaurant, Taxim. The freshly picked leaves were tossed in a simple treatment of olive oil, preserved lemon, dill and capers, and served with grilled Halloumi cheese.

I’d been craving the salad recently and a chef friend led me to the vast greenhouses of Vantreight Farm where Ryan Vantreight was unaware of purslanes potential in the marketplace. While its cute, oval, green and fleshy leaves don’t have the PR power behind it like, let’s say, nettles or garlic scapes, with a little spin, purslane could be the next darling of the locavore movement.
As he showed me the beautiful array of organic vegetables, herbs and berries throughout the greenhouses, he also pointed out the purslane growing in between the beds of basil and okra, where it regularly has to be weeded out. (As an aside, I bet you didn’t know that okra flowers were so beautiful).

So giving new meaning to the phrase, ‘in the weeds’, I was offered the chance to pick at my leisure, and fill a basket with the vigorous weed.
Armed with several meals worth, I spoke briefly about verdolagas with one of the Mexican workers at the farm and discussed its use in Mexico. He mentioned a pork and tomatillo stew, and I remembered a wonderful recipe in Diana Kennedy‘s book, The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, that I had made years earlier. Inspiration!
To get me closer to the salad, I stopped in to visit Yasser Youssef at the Lakehill Grocery. He recognized the plant immediately and I gifted him with a big bunch. Youssef spoke about dishes in his native Lebanon that incorporates the green: one a salad, and the other, mini pies of leavened dough wrapped around a filling of purslane, tomatoes, onion, lemon juice and olive oil.  Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
For the sake of experimentation, I purchased two styles of Halloumi from Yasser, one from Cyprus, a combination of sheep and goat cheese, the other called Halloum (no ‘i’) made with cow’s milk. ( Many salads later, the Halloum came across as too salty, while the Cypriot cheese, had more depth of flavour – a little more baaah for your buck).
Back at home and with no preserved lemon in sight, I added chopped lemon zest to the mix and added in a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts, and sumac powder for a decorative touch. Lemony, tart and tanginess, capers, salty notes, crunch from the pine nuts, the grassiness from the olive oil, this is a dish I could return to regularly – and I have – a completely refreshing first course in the summer.
The Mexican pork, tomatillo and purslane stew came next. Simple in execution – baby back ribs with tomatillos and jalapenos with subtle hits of cumin and Mexican oregano. Absolutely delicious.
More Middle Eastern dishes using purslane can be also be found in Paula Wolfert’s books, and via Peter Minakis‘s wise writing on Greek cuisine at Kalofagas.ca, where I found a wonderful variation on the classic tzatziki where purslane stands in for cucumber.
The dish cried out for grilled lamb to accompany it, and I complied, adding a bay leaf in between chunks of the meat.
Grilled pita bread was all that was needed to complete this purslane, thick yogurt and garlic delight.

If you’d like to jump on the bandwagon, ask for purslane at your nearest farmers’ market or reputable grocer, one that supports and sells locally grown produce. (I’ve also seen it growing in between the rose bushes at Beacon Hill Park where you can pick it for free). You could even give Vantrieght Farms a call, and request a big box load to be delivered to your restaurant. He just might show you some of the farm’s amazing produce, produce that makes Victoria such an amazing place to live and dine.

 



One Response to “In Pursuit of Purslane”

  1. janel raelyn says:

    What a nice garden you’ve posted! It is full of herbs and Yes! the okra flowers are just beautiful. and the okra itself is nice for salad…

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