Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Eating Weeds

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.

Almost.

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.

21 comments:

Susan Carrier said...

I didn't know that pigweed could be my friend. I had no idea that it was edible. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

Susan

Ben Wideman said...

speaking of which, you've got a pretty cool blog yourself!

Wendy said...

Mornings are magical, aren't they? I've been walking with Marco early in the morning and the world seems like a different place. It's wonderful. :)

Lovely salad recipe. Wonder if purslane grows here in Scotland... Any idea?

rowena said...

Well now - I feel a tad guilty for having the luxury of prancing around in my garden from sun up to sun down. :-P But now this -- pigweed is EDIBLE?!? And all this time...gotta hand it to you for always coming up with some interesting tidbit from the garden. Perhaps now it explains why our doxie likes to eat it!

Oh, and as for Lisbon, I'm sure that you've already penciled this in but if not, please, please, please go to Pasteis de Belém and have a pastry (or more) for me. I'm begging you! It is a must-eat when in Lisbon. Buon viaggio!

ann said...

what a lovely post and what lovely pictures! thanks for sharing your morning garden with me. I feel cooler and more oxygenated already!

Laura said...

Purslane is great sweated over heat in olive oil too and makes a lovely ingredient with pasta. e.g. Spaghetti + purslane + garlic + shredded carrot+ mussels = delicious.

Bobbi said...

I can't wait to try the Watermelon, Bean, and Purslane Salad; sounds yummy!

Laura said...

Purslane is great cooked too saute with olive oil and garlic yummy - add it to pasta e.g. Spaghetti, purslane, mussels, carrots is lovely.

Christina said...

Susan: Give it a whirl. When you cook it, it becomes mucilagenous, like okra. I think I'm going to have lots of fun experimenting with it this summer, and I'd love to hear whatever you try with it.

Ben: Thanks!

Wendy: I have no idea if it grows there. You may google it to see if it has a different name locally. And yes, Wendy, mornings are spectacular. I'm so happy that Marco has found such a wonderful home with you.

Rowena: Thanks for the tip-off. I'll definitely head there. Have a happy 4th-of-July-away-from-home.

Ann: I'm glad it helped. Stay cool.

Bobbi: Let me know how it works for you and whatever changes you make to it.

Laura: I think you commented twice, but no matter, as both times the simple recipe you described made me hungry. That sounds like a delicious combination, and one I'll have to try soon!

inadvertentgardener said...

Gorgeous photos...you're making me really miss mornings in my garden!

손여정 said...

that almost looks like something they eat here in korea. but then again they eat everything here. >.< and quoting wiki is ok, my college professor read it for lecture (without even saying it was from wikipedia)! i only knew this because i had the wikipedia notes printed out. :P hope life is treating you well ^^

Chris said...

Wow! I never even knew the name of the weed I constantly pulled out of the garden and now it turns out it is edible!! I am very eager to try your salad and the next time I see some purslane, I will give it a little room to grow and then eat it! Have a great trip.

Susan in Italy said...

Purslane! That's one of the many "weeds" that people eat a lot of in Greece. It's pretty good in a crram sauce over roast chicken. I've never had it raw. Will try.

Lucy said...

There are quite a lot of Lebanese recipes that feature purslane as well. I remember getting Very excited when I found it creeping across the pavers in the front yard!

I've been back a few times, taking in those images and words. You elevate gardening to the sublime. Oh, those early morning shots. Christina, they take my breath away!

Lisbon??!! Enjoy - not clues, I'm afraid, but I cannot wait to see the images you return with!

Ashraf Al Shafaki said...

We have a weed here in Egypt called Regla (رجلة). It looks so close to the purslane photo you have here but I'm not sure if it is the same plant. We often find the Regla weed with Molokheya (a popular Egyptian green) when we buy it as leaves. The Regla is so tasty and has a unique texture when chewing it.

Terry B said...

Great post, Christina! Your rhetorical-question ramblings reminded me of a great Roz Chast cartoon in the New Yorker. It's the exterior of a New York storefront, The Rhetorical Question Store. There are three signs in the window: "CAN YOU BELIEVE WE'RE GOING OUT OF BUSINESS?", "ISN'T IT THE PITS?" and "WHY DON'T YOU VISIT US IN OUR NEW LOCATION?"

miriam said...

love the pictures of the squash and melon. can't wait to see the finished product.

Christina said...

Inadvertant Gardener: I know you must miss it terribly. I was gone for a week in Portugal, and even though we came back last night and I'm jetlagged beyond belief, I still rose early just to be with the vines as the sun woke up this morning.

Christine: Your college professor did what? That is an embarrassment to the profession. Hey, I miss you lady, and I hope you're hanging in there.

Chris: After being gone for a week, the purslane grew mightily, and I cut a huge bunch this morning. I think you'll find it very easy to "propogate."

Susan in Italy: Hooray! It is so good to see you back, and I'm thrilled about your news. And as for the purslane in cream sauce: isn't everything good in cream sauce?

Lucy: Perhaps you can share a Lebanese purslane dish next summer, when your own crawls across the yard? Thank you so much for the kind words, and yes, I loved Lisbon and am looking forward to sharing pictures. It was gorgeous.

Ashraf: It probably is the same thing--I keep finding out that just about every culture has a use for it. How do you prepare it in Egypt?

Terry B.: That's funny. Man, you always crack me up.

Jazz said...

Le Vésinet, France
July 12, 2007

Purslane could be the key to improving nutrition around the world because it is such a rich source
of vitamin E and because it grows so widely in the
world.

I showed a Eyptian house painter some purs-
lane last week that I had harvested while weeding and suddenly his face lit up with joy! "Regla!" he exclaimed as if perhps prouncing the Egyptian word for emerald rather than the Egyptian word for lowly purslane.

I improvised an experimental purslane soup for two --shortly after seeing the expression on my Egyptian friend's face --using, in addition to about three cups of purslane, three tomatoes cut in chunks , about half a cup of concentrated tomato paste, a cup of fresh corn, a couple of cups of water and a can of foul (Egyptian beans offered as a gift by my new painter friend). All I did after putting this mixture in a pan was to watch from time as the mixture brewed. I decided
arbitrarily to cook until the purslane was very limp. Never ever did I cook anything so thoughtlessly and never ever did I receive such an
excellent result. The next day there was some soup
left over that I used as a sauce for couscous.
I dream of a future Purslane Society where fans
will be able to exchange information about purslane. Incidentally, did I only imagine reading
or hearing that purslane was Gandhi's favorite vegetable?

All ze best (as we say in Paris),

(Mr.) Jazz De Cou

Shaun said...

Christina ~ What a wonderfully crisp Summer salad. I love the idea of combining purslane with watermelon. This is incredibly refreshing. Have a fabulous time in Lisbon - Eric and I are especially jealous.

Joanna Potratz said...

HI there! I've been reading your blog for a couple months now. Stumbled across is looking for garden tips.

And I've never seen this Purslane before but then I went outside last night to water my veggies and there under one of my tomatoes was a small branch of the stuff! I scooped it out and put it in a pot. I'm looking forward to trying it. It's just a baby right now but it sure suprised me to see it!

I'm all excited about edible growing things. I'm looking forward to starting my edible flower garden (also the name of the book I just got on the subject) next summer. I think it's a bit late to start this year, we only just bought our first house in May and didn't get the veggies planted till late June.