For most of the year, I only get to visit the garden plot in the afternoon. My mornings are such a rush—get up, make coffee, get dressed, drink coffee and eat something, hop in the car and go, you know, the regular morning routine of just about everyone—that I rarely get to see how silvery and romantic everything looks in the morning.
Particularly interesting to me are the cucurbits in the morning. Normally, elegant is not a word I would ever apply to a squash or melon vine. They're rambling, large-leaved (is that kind of like saying big-boned?), and rambunctious. I think of them as having a sense of humor, twirling their little tendrils into anything that is ticklish. And their flowers? Well, the melons have flowers that are too small for their proportions while the squash have flowers that are huge and gaudy and trumpeting—all quite wonderful, but not elegant. (Those flowers also taste mighty fine, too. Yum.)
All of the cucurbits' loudness quiets in the morning though, and what was brassy and funny, is now silvery and shy. In the cool of daybreak, leftover water from the evening's transpiration still lines the edges of leaves in evenly spaced shimmery drops.
The fine hairs that line the vines are at their softest and most silken in the early hours, reflecting the warmth of the first sunshine.
It's all so pretty, it almost makes me forget about the weeds.
I'm mostly intolerant of weeds. Grass and oxalis have no welcome place in my garden. The morning glory vines that pop up everywhere deserve the frustration they cause me: I pull them up and let them wilt in the hot sun, then toss them in the yard waste bin for municipal composting. Good riddance. Also victims of my aggressive weeding are puncture vines and telephone pole weed, black walnut seedlings from the evil tree and various weedy euphorbias. Then again, there is a weed that I welcome in the garden. It appears naturally each year, and I do absolutely nothing to cultivate it other than cut back its growing tips to eat, and cut them back again when more grow in. Yup, it is a weed that I eat and I particularly enjoy, not only because it tastes great, but because it makes me feel loved through its spontaneous growth. I mean, if the garden is trying to feed me, shouldn't I let it? (Speaking of rhetorical questions, do you think I anthropomorphize much?)
This weed is purslane, aka portulaca, pigweed, and many other names. You probably have it growing somewhere in your yard or in between cracks in the concrete in front of your apartment right now. Maybe you've noticed it, maybe you haven't, but whether you have or haven't, you've been walking by food. It's good food too, crunchy, salty, and lemony-sour. According to Wikipedia (I know the irony of an English teacher quoting Wikipedia, but so it goes), it is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy green, so it is good for you too.
Although I sometimes toss the growing tips in stirfries, my favorite way to eat purslane is in a salad on a hot day. Once the cool mornings wear off around here, it gets uncomfortably hot and salads are sometimes the only thing I feel like making. Last night, for dinner guests, I tossed together a few summertime goodies into a salad that is a cool combination of sweet and sour, crunchy and juicy, herb-y and savory. It worked very well, and when I asked my guests, "What do you think, is this post-worthy?" and they replied emphatically, "Oh yes," I knew I had to share it here. My directions below are not very scientific, but it is summertime and it is hot and everyone's brain melts a bit this time of year. Besides, it is a salad, and it is open to endless riffing, so riff away.
Watermelon, Bean, and Purslane Salad
You will need:
3 cups of watermelon chunks, cut in a size and shape you like
A handful of flavorful greens (I used beet greens, but arugala and maybe even watercress would work well here)
As many purslane stems as you can gather from a garden or vacant lot near you (I used a sturdy handful)
A handful of green beans or wax beans
A healthy branch of lemon basil
Olive oil, Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste
To make the salad:
Blanch the beans (bring a small pot of water to boil, drop in the beans and cook 30 seconds or so, just until they turn a shade brighter, pour out the pot over a colander, and rinse the beans under cool water to stop them from cooking any further).
On a large serving platter, arrange the watermelon. Sprinkle the greens over the watermelon; break the beans into 2" lengths and toss them over the melon also. Strip the leaves from the stems of the purslane, and toss the leaves over the salad. Strip the leaves from the lemon basil branch, cut the leaves into a fine chiffonade, and toss them over the salad. Shave as much Parmesan as you think the salad needs and add it to the plate. Finally, drizzle over olive oil and give the salad a good sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper, and you're good to go. When I made this last night, it served four as a salad course.
And now, for a word from my readers . . .
I hope you find eating weeds as fun as I do. If you've got other suggestions for this or other weeds, please share. And while I'm asking for suggestions, ECG and I could use a little travel advice. We're heading out Friday for his conference in Lisbon. Although I've printed out a stack of maps of interesting areas to explore while he's busy during the days, I still need plenty of suggestions of what and where to eat. If you have any great finds tucked in your memory from the time(s) that you've wandered through Lisbon, please share these as well.