blank'/> 66 Square Feet (Plus): Purslane, the delicious weed

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Purslane, the delicious weed

I've been threatening to write about purslane for a while now.

I saw great big healthy bunches of it being weeded out of the Abalimi Bezekhaya plots in Cape Town (above), when we visited, and tossed aside, while other vegetables on the land were destined for CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes put together by the Harvest of Hope, an Abalimi affiliate started in 2008.

I thought that the purslane could be put to more profitable use*: It has always been considered veldkos (field food) in South Africa, and a member of the morog family (loosely defined as edible leafy greens growing wild - often famine food in poor rural areas).

The first recipe here is C. Louis Leipoldt's (1880-1947), known to most South Africans as a poet, but also a doctor, journalist, novelist, botanist, and certainly gay at a time when the word meant happy. The second two are from Charmaine Solomon's 1998 Encyclopedia of Asian Food. The final two are mine, though hardly original.

This receipt is from Leipoldt's Cape Cookery, contained in the 2003 collection Leipoldt's Food and Wine.

Leipoldt writes: Purslane (porseleinblaar) that grows profusely in every Cape garden in late winter and spring was, in the old days, and should be today, a favourite vegetable. Its little succulent leaves were gathered, washed and braised with ginger powder, mace, pepper and salt in fat; a tiny spicule of garlic was added, a wineglassful of wine was stirred in, and the result was an amazingly delicate, luscious and sapid puree, that was served with rice and potatoes.

Charmaine Solomon writes of its medicinal uses: In Indonesia purslane was traditionally prescribed for cardiac weakness. The latest research in Western medicine reveals that it is one of the few vegetable sources of omega 3 [fatty acids]...which have an anti-inflammatory effect. It has a high iron and Vitamin C content, hence its use in the prevention and treatment of scurvy.

The succulent stems and small fleshy leaves with a slightly mucilagenous quality are eaten raw, served with a dip of fish sauce.

That sounds rather good, if you like fish sauce, as I do. I would add to the little dipping bowl a big squeeze of lime, a teaspoon of sugar and half a chopped chile. Wash purslane thoroughly and chop into small dippable lengths, stem and all. Dip, eat. Rice on the side and a more substantial dish and you have a very good meal.

Stir fried Purslane, Chinese Style:

Serves 4

1 or 2 bunches purslane
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Wash purslane, shake dry and trim off the roots and tough lower end sof the stems. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil and fry garlic on low heat until fragrant. Toss in the purslane and stir fry for 1 minute, add soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and mix quickly.

Spicy Purslane, Sri Lankan Style:

Serves 4 as an accompaniment to rice.

1 bunch purslane
1 small leek [or scallion]
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 teaspoons pounded Maldive fish [Um. Anchovies? Shrimp paste? Or fish sauce]
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
4 tablespoons water
squeeze lime juice

[Clean purslane as above] Wash leek thoroughly, slice finely. Heat oil and gently fry the leek and garlic, stirring from time to time, until soft and fragrant. Cut purslane into short lengths and stir fry for a minute. Add the Maldive fish [or substitute], salt and chilli powder, fry a few seconds longer and add water. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Sprinkle lime juice over, mix, taste and adjust seasoning.

And so back to South Africa.

Hilda Gerber writes: The word bredie, according to Lichtenstein, is derived from the Malagese. "In the Madagascar tongue bredie signifies spinach. At present given by the whole colony to a sort of vegetable dish, which like cabbage, spinach, or sorrel is cut into pieces and dressed with cayenne pepper."
Somehow bredies turned into slow-cooked stews of lamb, onions, and cut up vegetables. She mentions that the old people she interviewed (in the late 4o's) remembered their mothers making porselein-bredie, but that no one made it anymore, or knew how.

So, try this:

2 large onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves crushed and sliced garlic
1 bunch purslane, well washed, cut into 1 inch lengths
2 lbs of lamb (chops, ribs or cut up leg or shank)
1 lemon's juice or 1/4 cup tamarind juice
2 hot red chiles, sliced
1-3 potatoes, cut up
salt, pepper

You need a pan with a lid. In hot oil sweat the onions until slightly coloured. Add garlic. Take onions and garlic out of pan. Brown the lamb in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan and cause the lamb to go pale and gasping. Squeeze over the lemon juice and stir up the brown bits stuck to the pan. Return the onions to the pan and add the purslane, chiles, seasoning. Add enough water to touch the top of the meat. Cook with the lid ajar at a gentle simmer for about 2 hours - add the potatoes after one hour - until the meat is falling apart. Take the lid of the pot if the liquid has not reduced enough. Serve with rice.

And finally (are you still there?):

To piping hot, boiled baby potatoes, in their pot, drained, add the leaves of a bunch of scrupulously clean purslane. Just the leaves. Toss with 2 tablespoons of very good EV olive oil; salt and pepper generously and squeeze a little lemon over.

The End.

* Update: Rob Small, director and founder of Abalimi, wrote to let me know that purslane is now a regular feature in the CSA boxes. It is accompanied by an insert I wrote explaining how it can be eaten and prepared. I'm curious to know how many subscribers actually do eat it.

11 comments:

  1. I'm still there, and now I'm hungry...

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  2. Skattie! wonderful.... especially love the Cape Malay flavors... are you listening for signs of Spring over the thunderous crash of the economy?? I am now proud Oumie of dogtertjie number 2 but have been enjoying your adventures in the bush... V's Leopard pix magnificent..

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  3. Still here too. Purslane looks familiar. Would I have seen it or a look alike in BK?

    I may be delusional but it reminds me lots of this small succulent that grows as a weed (ahem, volunteer) in my backyard.

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  4. Beence...ag shame, man!

    Judi - congratulations...you sound really happy, that's great.

    Amarilla - oh yes! I've seen it at the farmers' markets here, and it really does grow like a weed. It is Portulaca. Often very flat along the ground (hence sandy), but another kind is a little more upright.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hen said
    Lyn and I have come back from Abalimi this morning, loaded with bags of purslane - having taught the ladies there something. Lyn is going to make a purslane risotto for supper and I might make the bredie - must get lamb

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  6. HEN!!!

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay! Are you going to make bredie or Bevan's thing? Risotto sounds good.

    xxxx
    Chicken

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  7. 6am here and about to get breakfast...I miss the purslane that "volunteered" all over my former rambling country garden. I never cooked it, just added it to salad.
    And, recently, a friend gave me a smallish pot of basa, Ceylon spinach, which is somewhat similar.
    Breakfast now seems rather boring!

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  8. This is such a great post! The Shakers in Upstate New York liked purslane a lot too. I can't remember how they prepared it, but I do remember several recipes in one of my cookbooks. I'll have to look it up over the weekend and get back to you.

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  9. Not sure I'd want purslane for breakfast...:-)

    Ann - Shaker recipe: intriguing. Pass on if you can.

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  10. I made cold salads with it this past summer, for the first time. Delicious!

    Purlane
    Mint
    Parsley
    Lemon
    Zatar (from Istanbul)
    Olive oil (from Crete)
    chopped skinned and seeded tomatoes
    chopped cucumber
    finely shaved red onion

    Thanks for posting! More please!

    :) Pritha

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  11. Oddly enough, my biggest finding of purslane was running down the driveway of my CSA pick-up site. Yummy! Have to do more foraging this year. I had forgotten how lemony it tastes.

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