Purslane—the Edible Ice Plant

Think of it as a weed, and you’ll be missing out on one of the most nutritious greens on the planet. Purslane has more beta-carotene than spinach, as well as high levels of magnesium and potassium. Historically it has been used as a remedy for arthritis and inflammation by European cultures. Chinese herbalists found similar benefits, using it in respiratory and circulatory function. Recently, it’s been found that purslane has alpha linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid.

World wide about 40 varieties of purslane are grown. It is most commonly found in the warm temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Purslane exhibits the most species diversity in Western North America and South Africa, where it is likely to have originated. Part of the reason for its evolutionary success is that a single plant can produce up to 52,300 seeds. What’s more, purslane seeds can survive for up to 30 years in undisturbed soil. Several ancient cultures have included purslane as a part of their cuisine, including those of Greece and Central America. Russians dry and can it for the winter. In Mexico it is called verdolaga and is a favorite comfort food. There, it is eaten in omelets, as a side dish, rolled in tortillas, or dropped by handfuls into soups and stews.

Purslane really is related to Ice Plant; it’s real name is Portulaca Oleracea. About 40 varieties are currently cultivated. It has an extensive old-world distribution extending from North Africa through the Middle East. It has a slightly sour and salty taste and is eaten throughout much of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Mexico. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. 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 soup and stew.

Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acid than any other leafy vegetable. When stressed by low availability of water, purslane, which has evolved in hot and dry environments, switches to photosynthesis using Crassulacean acid metabolism. At night its leaves trap carbon dioxide, which is converted into malic acid (the souring principle of apples), and, in the day, the malic acid is converted into glucose. When harvested in the early morning, the leaves have 10 times the malic acid content as when harvested in the late afternoon, and thus have a significantly more tangy taste.

CUCUMBER-PURSLANE-YOGURT SALAD

5 large Cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into quarter-round slices
1/4 pound Purslane, large stems removed, washed and drained well
2 tablespoons each, Fresh chopped mint, cilantro and chervil
4 cups Whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup Virgin olive oil
3 cloves Garlic, puréed with the blade of a knife
2 teaspoon ground Coriander
kosher Salt and ground Black Pepper

Place the cucumber, purslane and herbs into a large bowl. In another bowl, stir together the yogurt, olive oil and garlic, coriander and season to taste with salt. Add the yogurt mixture to the vegetables and mix well. Add a pinch of ground black pepper. Taste the dressed cucumber-purslane salad for seasoning, adding a little more salt if needed. Serve chilled.

PURSLANE POTATO SALAD

6 medium potatoes, sliced and cooked
2 cups purslane, chopped
4 scallions, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 cup mayonnaise

Mix together all ingredients. Serve chilled.

GRILLED ZUCCHINI SALAD WITH PURSLANE AND TOMATO

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing zucchini
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 zucchini (1 3/4 to 2 lb total), halved lengthwise
12 oz purslane, thick stems removed (4 cups)
10 oz pear or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

Prepare grill for cooking. If using a charcoal grill, open vents on bottom of grill.

Make dressing:
Whisk together zest, lemon juice, shallot, mustard, and salt in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking until dressing is emulsified. Whisk in pepper and parsley.

Grill zucchini:
Lightly brush zucchini all over with oil. When fire is hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 1 to 2 seconds), grill zucchini, cut sides down first, on lightly oiled grill rack, uncovered, turning once, until zucchini are just tender, 8 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board and cool slightly, then cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Toss zucchini with purslane, tomatoes, and dressing in a large bowl. Serve immediately.

CHOPPED ARABIC SALAD

1 lemon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper3 tablespoons olive oil
2 (1/2-lb) cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 1/3 cups)
1 lb tomatoes (3 medium), cut into 1/3-inch dice (2 1/2 cups)
1 cup finely chopped red onion (1 small) or 1 cup chopped scallions (about 5)
1 cup coarsely chopped purslane (optional)
1 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (from 1 large bunch)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint (from 1 bunch)

Cut peel, including all white pith, from lemon with a sharp paring knife. Working over a bowl, cut segments from half of lemon free from membranes and transfer segments to a cutting board, then squeeze juice from membranes and remaining 1/2 lemon into bowl. Transfer 2 tablespoons juice to a large bowl, then finely chop segments and add to measured juice. Add salt, pepper, and oil, whisking to combine, then stir in remaining ingredients.

REBOCADO (PORK AND PURSLANE STEW)

2 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
14 dried New Mexico chiles, stemmed
1 whole clove
1 bay leaf
1/2 stick cinnamon
2 lb. pork neck, cut into 3/4″-thick slices by butcher
3 lb. purslane leaves and small stems
Warm flour tortillas, for serving

Place salt, cumin, chiles, clove, bay leaf, cinnamon, and 2 1/2 cups boiling water in a blender, and puree until smooth. Transfer to a 6-qt. saucepan with pork and 4 cups water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until meat is tender, about 2 hours.

Add purslane and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about another 30 minutes.

Divide pork and purslane among serving bowls, ladle sauce over top, and serve with tortillas.

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