This one was quite impromptu, but I guess that is the essence of most of my cooking and even some of my baking these days. Yesterday I was weeding the sunflowers and looking one bed over my eye caught a stand of purslane poking out of the shadows of the sprawling sweet potato vines. This purslane looked particularly succulent so I took two of the plants out of the ground, rinsed them and brought them back to camp Mano, stopping along the way for a few black prince tomatoes and sprigs of French tarragon.
Purslane grows as a farm weed and I’ve spent a lot of time removing the plants from our vegetable beds and paths. As a food, I usually ignore it, even as it shares many of the characteristics of the crispy, watery, succulent crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and melons that are so gratifying during the summer time – and especially you’re a farmer because it means there’s plenty of in-field snacking.
This time I was determined to add purslane to my cadre of seasonally appropriate foods and set out to make a salad. I enlisted the help of my mom, who quickly made up a balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and fresh ground pepper base, I quartered some tomatoes, a few of our baby bell peppers and threw them in. Then we added some non-local kalamata olives, threw in the finely minced tarragon (wished I had brought some fresh basil back from the field, but too lazy to head back out there – and gosh, I wish I had a fresh onion right now) and tossed all the ingredients together. Regarding ingredient quantities, just use your own best intuition, adding to the quantity of dressing you want, and amending to taste.
As for the purslane itself: most of it is quite succulent, but by breaking off smaller sprigs of the plant with my fingers, I was able to determine the point at which the stems became too fibrous to be ideally palatable and discarded that material. I had initially planned on mixing the sprigs directly into the tomato-pepper-olive-oil-garlic-balasmic base, but ended up scooping the dressing over a bowl of the freshly washed sprigs, the purslane essentially functioning as a seasonal substitute for lettuce. Also, I have a feeling that if the purslane were left soaking in the tomato-olive oil-vinegar base it would have been too soggy after long. This way, if there were any leftovers of the dressing, I could save it for another salad.
At the end of it all I realized this is a great recipe to share because it’s so simple and draws on so many of the staples that are in this week’s CSA share (cucumber, tomato, purslane, pepper, garlic). Purslane is a seasonally appropriate food that is a good substitute for our lack of summer lettuce – not quite a replacement though – we’ve got a new crop of red romaine in the greenhouse getting ready for the early autumn.
One more thing… you might notice that the picture I’ve shared shows a flat bread of sorts. I think this is the perfect food to make the salad more of a meal. This too was made from scratch – with freshly ground whole white winter wheat flour, a pinch of two of baking powder, some salt, whatever seasonings desired and warm water. Knead dough until pliable, roll out small amounts thinly on a surface coated with corn meal. Fry in a cast iron skillet with a liberal amount of your favorite oil (I tend to use sunflower for my breads) until cooked through, serve and enjoy with your salad!