Image Source: https://extension.umass.edu/landscape/weeds/portulaca-oleracea
Although purslane is considered a weed in the United States, it may be eaten as a leaf vegetable. 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 may be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked as spinach is, and because of its mucilaginous quality it also is suitable for soups and stews.
Australian Aborigines use the seeds to make seedcakes. Greeks, who call it andrakla (αντράκλα) or glystrida (γλυστρίδα), use the leaves and the stems with feta cheese, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, add it in salads, boil it, or add to casseroled chicken. In Turkey, besides being used in salads and in baked pastries, it is cooked as a vegetable similar to spinach. In Albania, it is also used as a vegetable similar to spinach, mostly simmered and served in olive oil dressing, or mixed with other ingredients as a filling for dough layers of byrek. In the south of Portugal (Alentejo), baldroegas are used as a soup ingredient. In Pakistan, it is known as qulfa and cooked as in stews along with lentils like spinach or in a mixed green stew.
Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant. Studies have found that purslane has 0.01 mg/g ofeicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), vitamin B, carotenoids), and dietary minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Also present are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish betacyanins (visible in the coloration of the stems) and the yellow betaxanthins (noticeable in the flowers and in the slight yellowish cast of the leaves). Both of these pigment types are potent antioxidants and have been found to have antimutagenic properties in laboratory studies.
100 grams of fresh purslane leaves (about half a cup) contain 300 to 400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid. One cup (250 ml) of cooked leaves contains 90 mg of calcium, 561 mg of potassium, and more than 2,000 IUs of vitamin A.
When stressed by low availability of water, purslane, which has evolved in hot and dry environments, switches to photosynthesis using Crassulacean acid metabolism(the CAM pathway): 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 ten times the malic acid content as when harvested in the late afternoon, and thus have a significantly more tangy taste. Wikipedia
What to Do with It and Cooking
Tart, succulent purslane can be used like any green veggie – and is great both raw and cooked. If you’re planning on cooking it, the green fares best steamed or sautéed, but it is also used in sauces and stews because its slightly mucilaginous quality can be utilized as a thickening agent. The green pairs well with other summer veggies, like green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and even eggplant.
Toss a handful of purslane leaves into a green salad for some lemony crunch, or add it to pasta, potato (see recipe below), bean or grain salads. It is common in Indian cuisine – here’s a recipe for a purslane dal and a delicious-sounding Indian-style cooked purslane side dish with ginger and garlic. The green is also widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine – here’s a recipe for a Persian-style purslane salad with cucumbers and tomatoes (perfect for summer) and another from the venerable Paula Wolfert for a Turkish lamb stew with purslane. Over at Chocolate and Zucchini, author Clotilde Dusoulier has written a brilliant post called “45 things to do with purslane,” including a comprehensive list of purslane pairings, ideas for purslane salads and even a recipe for a purslane smoothie!
Store purslane stems in a jar with just a bit of water. Kept in the fridge, they’ll keep only for a few days, so use them up right away!
Stretching your fresh food dollar though preservation
Unfortunately, purslane is not a good candidate for freezing, nor does it even keep in the fridge for very long. What you can do is pickle it – here’s a recipe for pickled purslane and another for pickled purlsane stems (a great way to put nose-to-tail veggie eating to good use)!
Purslane and Potato Salad with Dill and Piment d’Espelette
Purslane and potatoes are naturals together – the green’s succulent, tart, lemony qualities are a great foil for starchy potatoes. I prefer to use fingerling potatoes or Yukon golds when I make potato salad (especially mayo-less potato salad, as this one is), but you could also use red-skinned potatoes. Admittedly, this recipe has a few ingredients that may be a bit difficult to find: as we discussed above, you probably won’t find purslane in your local grocery store, so you’ll have to do a bit of farmers’ market sleuthing (or foraging) to find some. And a word about piment d’Espelette: this is a spice made from ground, dried Espelette peppers, especially prized in Basque cuisine. It’s just barely spicy, with a sweet-smokey quality that tastes delightful with potatoes, especially. Piment d’Espelette can be a bit…spendy (and hard to find), so you can easily substitute smoked paprika, sweet paprika or cayenne (just go easy on the cayenne), or a combination. I was lucky enough to find an Espelette seedling last year, and so was able to grow, dry and grind my own Piment d’Espelette, a spice that I’ve come to love in the kitchen.
1 lb. fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved (or quartered if very large)
2 tablespoons mild vinegar, such as apple cider or white-wine
1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄4 teaspoon (or more, to taste) piment d’espelette
3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 cup purslane leaves (reserve stems for another use)
- Put the potatoes in a large, heavy saucepan and just barely cover with water (the water should come up no more than 1⁄2 inch above the potatoes). Add a large pinch of kosher salt to the potatoes and turn the heat up to high.
- When boiling, reduce to a high simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart (when you pierce them with the tip of a knife you will meet no resistance). Cooking time will vary greatly with the kind of potato you use and how large they are. Start checking after about 10 minutes and keep a close eye on them to avoid mushy potatoes.
- Carefully drain the potatoes in a large colander. Put the colander (with the potatoes in it) back over the pot the potatoes were cooked in and drizzle with the vinegar. Let the potatoes sit in the colander for 15-20 minutes to allow steam to escape, and to cool.
- Meanwile, make the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk together the extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, the piment d’espelette, the dill and a large pinch of kosher salt. Set aside.
- To make the salad: in a large serving bowl, add the cooled potatoes and gently toss with the dressing (I usually just use my hands). Taste and correct for salt: at this point, I usually add quite a bit more salt – don’t be afraid, potatoes need a lot of salt! Gently toss in the purslane leaves. Serve immediately.