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I had never even heard of purslane until about 6 months ago, which is surprising because I’ve always been pretty into herbs.  I thought maybe it was a new name that’s making the rounds or something, because when I googled it, it also came up as pigweed.  Now THAT I’ve heard of.  I think Thoreau ate it at some point in Walden, and what a horrible name for such a cute little plant.  I’m sticking with purslane.

Apparently, purslane, pigweed, verdolaga, whatever you call it, is a notorious weed that runs rampant all over the place.  I’m clearly in the world minority for thinking this is a new thing.  Frankly, I feel a little stupid, but there you go.  Everyone recommends you just pick it out of your own sidewalk if there’s no pesticides around, but for the life of me I can’t figure out which of the myriad of weeds in my backyard might be purslane, so I will buy mine at the farmer’s market for now, thank you very much.  I’m 98% sure we have some lovely patches of it growing where the grass died, but that leaves me about 89% sure it has dog pee on it, since it’s growing where, you know, the grass died.

It’s a green, low-growing succulent, which means it’s leaves and stems are a bit on the fleshy side, but for some reason I just think it’s adorable.  It’s leaves branch off from the fleshier stems – either green or a darkish red – and each little branch ends in a miniature nosegay of flat, happy, oval leaves with the thinnest amount of red or golden piping around each one.  Both stems and leaves are edible, and they have a slightly sour, slightly lemony flavor with a texture somewhere in between lettuce leaves and lettuce stem.  It’s definitely chewier or juicier than a regular old lettuce leaf, but it’s not quite crunch (not like a carrot; more like cucumber crunch), and not really as watery as you might imagine.  Purslane’s big appeal, other than being able to harvest out of your yard if you don’t have a dog, is that it is chock full of omega-3s.  It’s got the highest concentration of omega-3s of any plant, say some, so salmon-haters (talking to you, sis) and vegetarians, rejoice!  You too can get your omega-3s, and for way cheaper than wild sockeye.  It also has very high levels of vitamins A, B (pretty much all the variations), C and E, though apparently it’s also higher in oxalic acid than even spinach, which means very little to most people, but if you’ve ever had a kidney stone, your hackles probably just went up.  So if you’re worried about that stuff, don’t overindulge.  But in addition to Thoreau trying it out, Gandhi practically lived off the stuff.  He called it luni; most sources credit its origins in India, though it grows worldwide.  So if those two guys can eat it, I hereby decree purslane as the Harbinger of Peace and Harmony.

We tried our purslane two ways.  The easiest way is to simply chop into bite-sized pieces and toss it in among the rest of your greens in a lovely salad.  It lends a nice bite and an interesting addition, and goes very nicely with a simple oil and vinegar dressing (balsamic works better than red wine vinegar here – the purslane is a bit too sour for a sour vinegar.  I imagine sherry vinegar might be lovely as well, but I ain’t splurging on sherry vinegar to dress 50 cents worth of weed.)  This salad sounds awesome, but we didn’t have any zucchini on hand.

We also tried “Huevos con verdolagas” which is to saute purslane and onion, then scramble in some eggs, and wrap the creation in a tortilla.  I think corn tortillas are traditional, but all we had was whole wheat with flax seeds, so that’s what our huevos got. 

Honestly, I was only trying this recipe because of this blog.  The salad seemed a fine way to eat it, and the rumors of leaking mucilage when you cook this succulent skeeved me out.  But Huevos con Verdolagas was something of a revelation.

Chop up equal parts onion and purslane, stems and all.

Saute in butter until the onion starts to soften, about 3-5 minutes.Scramble eggs in a separate bowl and add to the sautee.  Scramble until the eggs are cooked, just a couple of minutes.  Wrap in a tortilla and eat.

So why was this such a revelation?  Because I really want to like purslane since it’s so good for me, and the salad was good, but the purslane works better as an addition there rather than the main event.  It’s a little too lemony/sour to be the only green in the show.  But this dish was an easy way to use a lot of purslane, and frankly, was surprisingly delicious.  The smell of the onions and purslane cooking reminded me of the smell of green pepper, which always smells great but ends up tasting like bile and old burps – sorry – so I was nervous.  But the taste!  It did taste like a bell pepper, but like the best parts of them without the bitterness.  It was sharp and acidic and had a little bite but not enough to be in the least bit harsh.  There was a little sourness and a bit of citrus, and I have to admit, I added some cheese because cheese makes everything better, but it didn’t need it.  I even forgot to add salt, and didn’t notice until I’d finished it.  THIS is how I’m going to eat my purslane.  In less than 10 minutes, wrapped to go, and chock full of yummy vitamins.

Many people recommend wilting it, boiling it, putting it in soups to thicken things, and in innumerable other dishes, but we only were able to procure a small bunch at the farmer’s market and it’s 100 degrees out, so doing anything involving soups or long prep time wasn’t going to happen this post.  But if you have a favorite way you like it, please post!

Trim? Not necessary.
Edible when raw? Yes, edible in all forms, though you either want it raw, or you want it cooked down to nothing – Since it’s a succulent, a medium amount of cooking (5 mins+) will release its mucilage, which is as gross as it sounds.  It means it will get slimy.  That slime will thicken soups and things, so you can let it cook a good long while and it won’t be so icky/you won’t even notice, but anything in between “raw” and “cooked to death” is probably going to ruin the dish for you.
Worth the price of organic?  I think so.  You’re eating the whole plant, so there’s no place for those pesticides to hide, and since it is considered a pest among gardeners, I imagine non-organic will be chock full of pesticides since it grows just everywhere and is so hard to eradicate.  I have no evidence for that last bit, it just seems to make sense in my head.  On the other hand, it’s classified as a “noxious weed” by the Dep’t of Agriculture, which means most people that routinely eat purslane probably think I’m nutso for purchasing it at all.  Just pluck it out of your sidewalk, I guess.
Best with: fish, cucumbers, garlic, feta – anything that goes well with a little lemony flavor.  Also, olives, anchovies, avocado, or other oily foods where the sour citrus cuts the grease nicely.  Avoid sour vinegars or other sour accompaniments – they’ll highlight the sour notes of the purslane and make everything taste ‘off’.
How to Store: In the fridge, washed, it should keep about 2 days.  Try placing the stems in water if your bunch came pre-tied stems down.  It gets slimy pretty quickly, so try to eat it as freshly picked as possible.