Produce of the Week - Portulaca
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Portulaca is a plant with many faces, and a name for each. In English it's generally known as Purslane, a word with allusions to folk medicine, things Romantic, and the mediaeval diet. But it's also known as Little Hogweed (Hogweed, like Satan, apparently coming in two sizes), and some of our links treat it accordingly. In Spanish it's Verdolaga, and is an item in traditional cuisine and one which, like many foodstuffs, is considered to have medicinal properties.
One of our Spanish links says that Portulaca was an important part of the European diet for at least four thousand years, until it fell out of favor several hundred years ago, being used now mostly for fodder. It remains an important ingredient in Latin American and Mediterranean cuisines, and is also used in Asian cooking.
The plant's eating qualities and response to cooking makes it very versatile. Portulaca is fairly succulent,
and the leaves and young stems have an admirable combination of crunchiness and tenderness which suit them to use raw in salads - green salad or grain-based salads such as tabouleh. The whole stalks can be blanched and used as the basis for a salad (or vegetable dish, depending on your point of view) - add tomatoes, garlic, thin sliced white onion, olive oil,...- or in dishes such as omelets, but are robust enough to hold together in a soup. The taste is a sort of sweet/sour, the sour reminiscent of spinach but without the algal or fresh cut lawn overtones, while the sweet component is a bit walnut and a bit carrot. The texture varies with the amount of cooking, from the crispness of the raw leaves to the asparagus-like mellow chewiness of boiled stalks. Raw or cooked, the flavor acts as an accent or highlight to that of other ingredients, while the texture contrasts with that of a salad, and compliments that of other cooked vegetables.
Portulaca offers a variety of interesting minerals, but it's recent claim to fame is it's linoleic acid (omega 3). One of our Spanish links discusses its other minerals and acids and their nutritional or medicinal values. Certain growing conditions will produce Portulaca containing significant levels of oxalic acid (the main acid in spinach and, particularly, sorrel). People sensitive to oxalic acid, or worried about calicum intake, should be aware of this, perhaps sampling what's on offer before buying it.
The botanical links are particularly numerous this week because of the wide range of sentiment concerning Portulaca, which illustrates an earlier article on weeds. Opinions expressed go from extolling Portulaca's medicinal virtues to describing eradication policy for this "noxious weed". (Lest this phrase produce a frisson of anticipation, reminding you of the notices inspectors used to put next to your grandmother's - ornamental - opium poppies, Portulaca has no known narcotic effects.) One of these latter pages mentions a 'report' that Portulaca is useful in salad, but, true to form, the Ag guy seems not to have tried it.
If, despite your best culinary efforts, you don't look forward to meals, or, for that matter, the rest of the day, consult our final link, which tells how to use Purslane (or Verdolaga - the article is in Spanish) to make a magic good luck potion.