Thursday, July 29, 2010


Sorry for the dearth of posts recently. Staffing and personal issues have taken a huge toll on my free time.

I've always been a fan of foraging for food: it's hard to beat the price of free food! Now that it is mid-summer, local purslane is in full swing and there happens to be a bunch growing in the crack where the asphalt of the parking lot meets the stucco of the restaurant. And how ironic that this wild Portulaca (P. oleracea) with its tiny yellow blooms is growing under the window boxes full of its showy cousins with the big pink and fuchsia blossoms.

But be careful when foraging anything whose identity you're not certain of. Growing in the same crack right next to the purslane is a Spotted Spurge (Euphorbia maculata) which I have seen people confuse with purslane and which is mildly toxic. Spotted spurge, as you can see, has very thin stems which exude a milky sap when broken and has tiny leaves that are opposite each other on the stems. This is an entirely different growth habit from the purslane with its large succulent stems and whorls of leaves, largely at the end of its stems.

Here in the United States, purslane is considered a weed; however, it finds favor as a salad and cooking herb around the world. In Mexico, purslane is called verdolaga and while it is often used in green chile and pork stews, I like it best when used raw on tacos. Nothing like carnitas on a fresh corn tortilla with a nice tart green tomatillo salsa and a sprig of purslane. And in the Mediterranean and Middle East, you'll see purslane leaves in all manner of chopped salads and often in tzatziki-style yogurt sauces and salads.

We use purslane in salads (just the leaves) where the crunchy and slightly tart leaves make a pleasant addition. We also toss some in sautés with spinach, garlic, and olive oil. The whole plant is edible, stems, leaves, and blooms, but I find the stems a bit much, so I just strip off the leaves. Also, because purslane is a succulent, it has a mucilaginous quality similar to okra. I like purslane best when raw or just slightly cooked: it becomes a bit slimy for me when cooked longer.

It's pretty neat and no doubt you have some growing in one of your gardens or flower beds. Give it a try.

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