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Purslane at the Union Square farmer's market in New York City. [Photographs: Katie Quinn]

Purslane has crept into seasonal restaurant menus this summer, but you might not actually know what it is. Pur-who? I had never heard of the sweet, mildly sour succulent, but once I caught wind of the purslane trend, I started noticing it at farmers' markets. It turns out this exotic weed has a bit of a cult following.

Purslane originates from India, and was apparently Ghandi's favorite food. It's similar in flavor to spinach or watercress, but has a juice-filled stem and paddle-shaped leaves (about as wide as a staple and as long as a small safety pin). A vendor at the market who was selling purslane told me that many of his customers seek its hefty dose of omega-3s and vitamin C. He suggested I join the "purslane train" and try incorporating it into my next soup, or include the stems and leaves raw in salads.

When I researched purslane I came across an article entitled, Weed It or Eat It? Though touted on menus, purslane is actually a weed and can be a nuisance in gardens and yards. That juicy stem (I mentioned earlier) has a brilliant survival tactic, much to the dismay of gardeners everywhere. If someone uproots purslane, it uses the water in the stem to make seeds before it dies and shortly thereafter, more purslane will grow.

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Chef Lauren Hirschberg of Craftbar in New York City loves the low-maintenance harvesting of purslane. "Purslane is great because it grows easily and abundantly with no real upkeep other than harvesting it. It also contains a high concentration of alpha-linolenic acid and vitamin C making it not only good-tasting but healthful as well."

When cooking with purslane, Hirschberg plays off the sweet and light sour flavor and likes to use it with fish dishes—whether cooked or raw—because it has a somewhat citrus element that complements many types of fish. He often adds it to a mixed lettuce salad, as well.

If you are tempted to become a purslane convert, consider incorporating it into a dish such as Hirschberg's Agnolotti dish, which he has kindly shared the recipe for.

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