What’s a weed anyway, but a plant whose special gifts haven’t been appreciated yet, right?
This past winter, I thoroughly enjoyed Terra Brockman’s beautiful book, The Seasons on Henry’s Farm. It’s such a thought-provoking book in so many ways – religion, literature, food and farming and has given me much to ruminate on during my quiet hours alone in the field. And it changed my take on so-called weeds, in particular burdock and purslane.
Every American should have to read this book before they are allowed to complain on Facebook about food and farming – price, immigrant labor, quality, you name it. One thing I know for sure, as badass as I’d like to believe I am, I’m in no way equipped to hang with the crew at Henry’s Farm. And don’t take this the wrong way, but you probably aren’t either.
Okay, don’t let me wander off here – the point is that Terra taught me to look at purslane in a new way. Here’s what she has to say:
“Originally, it came from India, and it is reputed to have been Gandhi’s favorite food. Now it is ‘cosmopolitan,’ meaning it grows all around the world, including at Henry’s Farm, where it is, according to Henry, ‘a lovely weed.’
Unlike foxtail and other less lovely weeds, it grows low to the ground and so does not compete with the vegetables for sunlight. It also makes a gorgeous carpet underneath the heads of lettuce, and helps keep the ground cool. After Henry harvests the lettuce out of the bed, he tills in the purslane (whatever hasn’t been picked and bunched for our customers), and the soil benefits from its moisture, organic matter, and nitrogen.”
Whoa, wait, what?? Did you just hear what I heard? Did I, or did I not, just get a pass from a reputable source to NOT weed the purslane underneath all the veggies? Sort of like spreading a living mulch, an idea I happen to like very much.
Another idea I like very much? Learning that something modern farmers would consider an enemy to be eliminated with any and every weapon in the pesticide war chest is actually one of the most nutritious veggies in the garden. A good source of vitamin C and omega-3’s you say? Deliciously blasphemous I say…
So today, in honor of my bumper crop of purslane, I prepared it two ways. I’m sure you won’t be impressed by my degree of chef-ish difficulty, but one of the beauties of foraging and eating fresh and local is that sometimes the highest and best decision a cook can make is to set the fussy gyrations aside and allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.
My larder is super-bare at the moment, and I was in no mood for a grocery run. I have bulgur, flax-seed, canned tomatoes, onions and the usual basics. Everything I need to make one of my kitchen’s workhorse recipes: Bob’s Red Mill bulgur and flax pilaf. Filling, quick, easy, adaptable, and everyone likes it.
I can honestly say I have never once followed the recipe precisely; I just follow the procedure and the ratio of liquids. Today, instead of chicken stock, I used the juice from a large can of tomatoes. I subbed oregano from the garden for the Italian seasoning, and, since mine aren’t ready yet, a couple of the canned tomatoes for the fresh.
With what was left of the now strained can of tomatoes, I made a simple purslane salsa. I chopped the tomatoes, the remaining half onion, a couple gorgeous cloves of garlic from my cousin’s garden, added a squirt or two of lemon juice, salt and my purslane stash. I like my salsa coarsely chopped so did the tomato, onion and garlic by hand, but pulsed the purslane separately in the food processor. I also don’t like my salsa too watery, so I strained it before serving.
So what’s for dinner? A hefty scoop of pilaf beside a few spoonfuls of strained purslane salsa and garnished with a dollop of sour cream. Really, really good.
But wait! I still have more purslane! And some lemons preserved so long they’ve created a beautiful salty, peppery, bay leaf infused lemony syrup. I pulse more purslane, chop the softened rind from a quarter of a preserved lemon, chop onions and mix it together to see what I’ve got.
Yum! What I need to make it perfect, is chopped, crisp, tart apple or jicama. Celery will do, possibly celeriac, but the apple would really make it sing. What I had was a beautiful cabbage fresh from the garden, so that’s how I played it.
It’s tart, green, lemony, salty and has a bit of crunch. I was generous with the fresh, coarsely ground pepper and it’s got a bit of bite. This is an awesome sandwich topper (oh, man – what this could do for a fish taco!!) with a spoonful of spicy green chili chutney.
So now I have to confess there is a backhanded flaw in my grocery store avoidance plan. I didn’t need to go to the store UNTIL I made this purslane slaw.
I SO need some fresh scallops right now…
This project was inspired by the wild and wonderful foraging blog, Hunger and Thirst For Life. To see more about purslane and read what other food adventurers made with theirs, head on over and check it out.