Welcome to the first Ask Chef Emily column. I’m excited to answer reader questions about all things edible. A little about me: I’m the daughter of a commercial fisherman, grew up on the East End of Long Island, ran away to culinary school as a career changer to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a culinary instructor. After formal training at the Institute of Culinary Education, I became the executive chef at Astor Center in New York City and a professor of food studies at NYU. I host my own radio show called Sharp & Hot on Heritage Radio Network and am trilled to be welcomed into the Edible family. Ok, enough about me! First question comes from Joe in Sayville:
I have raised beds in my garden and there is purslane coming up everywhere. Can I eat it and if so, how?
Joe C., –Sayville
Not only is purslane (portulaca oleracea Portulacaceae, also called pursly) edible, it is delicious and very good for you. University researchers have shown purslane to have the highest level of healthy omega-3 fatty acids of any plant and 10 to 20 times the melatonin of any other plant tested. Omega-3s and melatonin have been credited with a wide variety of “superfood” characteristics, including inhibition of cancer growth, regulation of cholesterol, boosting of mood and weight management. The FDA classifies purslane as a weed, but with those potential health benefits, eat it up!
How to eat it? Well, first we must be sure to properly identify the plant. I refer you to Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi and illustrated by Wendy Hollender. There’s an excellent set of images on page 46. (Of course, a common Google search would also do the trick.)
Harvest purslane from an area that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals. Everything that grows above ground is edible, the younger the more tender. The leaves, small, paddle-shaped succulents, can be picked from edible reddish stems that can get fibrous as they age. In the morning, small yellow flowers open for pollination and make a beautiful, edible garnish for salads and patés.
The flavor of purslane, lemony-cucumber, is best served cold in salad to maintain the unique shape and texture of the plant. Pick the purslane and then rinse in plenty of cold water. If you fill a bowl with water, swish the purslane around then it stand for a few minutes, gravity will do most of the grit removal for you. Be sure to scoop the clean purslane (or lettuce, spinach, basil, this is my go-to method for grit removal) out of the basin rather than pour the gritty water back over the clean leaves in a colander.
You could toss some purslane in a blender with some clean fresh herbs, a clove of garlic a few glugs of olive oil and some lemon zest and juice, give it a whirl and have a delicious bright green salad dressing.
Alternately, boil the leaves 10 minutes or so then drain and sauté with some minced onion. Toss in some chopped fresh herbs like parsley and tarragon and sprinkle on some cotija cheese if you have it.
Purslane is highly adapted for survival and is very resistant to pests. Its seeds can remain dormant for 10 years in the soil, so weeding will prove to be futile. Embrace your new food crop as it volunteers all over the garden and enjoy the delicious and healthy benefits that come from eating your own backyard!
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