Getting Fresh: All Aboard the Purslane Train

Like watercress? Then hop aboard and join me on the purslane train.

Yes, that purslane, the weed that many gardeners find prolifically annoying. But don't pull those roots just yet, my dear green thumbs. These green leaves and sorta red stems are the stuff of mega nutrition. In addition to being low cal (just seven per cup) and chock-full of Vitamins A, C, E, plus iron, calcium and potassium, purslane is - are you ready? - the number one source of Omega-3 fatty acids among green leafy vegetables, beating out the touted spinach eight to one.

Purslane, the good weed. (Kim O'Donnel)

Specifically, it's loaded with the heart-healthy alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is typically found in cold-water fatty fish such as wild salmon, anchovies, sardines or mackerel. For vegetarians and those who are landlocked, this is exciting information.

In the course of my digging, I learned that the island of Crete has long held the distinction of having the lowest coronary death rate in the world, attributed to the low-fat diet that includes many varieties of wild plants, including our friend, purslane (which in Greek is known as glystrida, just one of many spellings).

Some of you are probably wondering if something so nutritious actually tastes good. Earlier, I mentioned watercress for comparison's sake, but I'd argue that purslane has a milder, less peppery flavor, and its tender stems are not bitter, but lemony.

Like watercress or arugula, purslane goes great in salad and plays well with herbs and an interesting range of fruits and veggies. My breakfast this morning was an ad hoc potato salad with an olive oil and lemon juice vinaigrette, a healthy helping of chopped purslane, sliced cuke, tomato, red onion and some chopped parsley. At first, I was wondering about the mix of potatoes with cuke and tomato, but the combination indeed works and feels fresh on the tongue. Next time, I think I'll throw a few chopped olives into the mix.

In her "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini," Elizabeth Schneider suggests adding purslane to "sandwiches, tacos and spring rolls" as well as chopping it up for tuna, egg or chicken salad.
I'm seeing a purslane omelet in my future and perhaps the parsley in my tabbouleh can make room for a twist of lemony purslane.

I haven't cooked the stuff yet, though I'm told it's a bit mucilaginous making it a good thickener for soups and stews.

The salad below is inspired by a recipe from the September 2004 issue of Food & Wine magazine, developed by Greek cooking expert Diane Kochilas. There goes that Greek reference again.

By the way, I don't have purslane growing in my back yard (but now I'm tempted). I picked up my maiden supply last weekend at Arlington Courthouse farm market.

So, tell me: Ever hop aboard the purslane train? Share your favorite way to eat the good weed in the comments area below.

Potato-Purslane Salad

3 medium waxy potatoes, such as Yukon golds or fingerlings, sliced into chunks, about ½ inch thick
salt to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1 ½ lemons); alternatively use red wine vinegar
About 1 cup purslane, thoroughly washed, torn or chopped (stems are tangier than leaves, taste first to see if you like)
½ cup red onion, thinly sliced (alternatively, use a few chopped scallions)
Other options:
½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced, into half moon shapes
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh herbs - mint, parsley, chervil - whatever suits you

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and add salt and potatoes. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly and then pour into a serving bowl, spreading even to cover bottom surface.

Combine olive oil and lemon juice in a small dish, whisking until well emulsified, then pour over potatoes.

In a layered fashion, add purslane, onion, plus any additional ingredients. With a wooden spoon, stir to combine, and taste for salt.

Makes enough for 2 or 3 as a side dish.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 23, 2007; 12:14 PM ET Getting Fresh
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Kim, You had me at alpha-linolenic acid. I'll be on the lookout for my maiden bunch of purslane at the farmer's market this week. Thanks for another great tip!!

Posted by: Renee | August 23, 2007 1:33 PM

I have this stuff all over my garden. Is there any risk that the healthy stuff has an evil look-alike cousin? I'd love to try it, but want to be sure it is not like mushrooms -- hard to tell the healthy ones from the deadly ones. Anyone know more? Is it safe to just pull it from the garden, rinse and eat? Thanks.

Posted by: Wondering | August 23, 2007 3:03 PM

so for those of us who live in apartments and don't have gardens, where do we find the stuff?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 23, 2007 3:11 PM

I was thinking the same thing and found that there is a poisonous plant, spurge, that looks similar and may grow near the good stuff. Apparently it is distinguished by having wiry (as opposed to fleshy) stems and by having a milky, white sap when you break a stem. You can find pictures of both at Google Images.

to 3:11, your local Farmer's Market may have someone who sells it.

Posted by: To Wondering at 3:03 | August 23, 2007 4:04 PM

Here in Nuevo Mexico, purslane is known as verdo lago. I have been eating it all Summer straight from the borders on my garden.

Jimbo's Backyard Omelette
(everything from my backyard, even the free range eggs)

1 jalapeno, chopped fine
2 pre-grilled onion, chopped coasresely
1 tomato, seeded
1 1/2 cup purslane leaves stems
3 eggs or more

saute the vegetables until tender, break the eggs over the top, mix, add salt and pepper.

Purslane and beet salad

2 cups purslane
some small beets, baked or grilled
sweet onion
olive oil
red vinegar
feta cheese or ricotta salata

Purslane potato salad

1 lb boiled small red potatoes
2 cups purlsane
1 medium red onion sliced razor thin
summer savory, oregano or zatar to taste
1 can anchovies, drained of their oil
salt and fresh ground black pepper
(Prep pointer: add the ingrediets to the potatoes as soon as they're drained and still piping hot. It sort of cooks things a bit)

Posted by: Jim in New Mexico | August 23, 2007 6:46 PM

I forgot the olive oil and red vinegar in the potato salad.

Posted by: Jim in New Mexico | August 23, 2007 6:50 PM

Happily, Purslane is an edible weed and a tasty and nutrient packed one. It is commonly eaten in France and other European countries. You can buy seeds for it at any gourmet seed site. I first had it in a salad at a French run restaurant in Mexico. At first I thought it was a mistake and then I realized it was delicious.
There is a recipe for it in Georgia O'Keefe's cookbook, but I tried it and found it rather bland.
Traditionally, in New Mexico, it is added to a pot of pinto beans or a pot of green chile and pork stew. I can buy purslane(verde lagas) at my farmers' market here in New Mexico, but I don't need to. My garden is full of them.
I appreciate the recipes from all of you. It is really hard to find purslane recipes in spite of its ubiquitous nature.
There is something wonderful about eating the weeds.

Posted by: Betty in New Mexico | August 23, 2007 10:54 PM

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