Purslane–A Weed Or Seasonal Treasure?

We are in the midst of a great American food revolution. Farmers markets around the country are the front lines of this cultural awakening directly connecting urban dwellers with regional farm and food producers.  Chefs have discovered farm-fresh produce as the secret to fine cuisine which has led to an increase in their patron’s culinary awareness and high expectations.

Community and markets go hand in hand. Farmers markets are places to learn about food, regions, farms and community events.  One of the simple pleasures in my life is discussing local foods and agricultural trends with small farmers who have a direct connection to the earth.

The communities of the ancient world situated their markets in town squares and city centers since this was where people gathered–these markets tended to be the seat of government as well.  Famously, democracy was created in the Agora (marketplace) of ancient Athens.

I shop two or three farmers markets weekly buying an exciting variety of seasonal produce.  Nature provides the nutritive balance with different plants maturing each week during the growing season. Traditional cultures around the world synchronized their lives around the cycles of indigenous growth and harvests.

However, in today’s markets, farmers have a tendency to grow what sells.  While this may make good business sense, the unfortunate result is that the educational aspects of the markets are lessened.  So, when I see unusual offerings, such as green amaranth, bitter melon or, one of my favorite culinary treasures, purslane, my mind begins to conjure up different ways to prepare dishes with the fresh delicacies before me.

 

Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse savored by most of the great food cultures of the world.  It is one of the highest plant sources in Omega 3 fatty acids and rich in vitamins A, C, Potassium and Alpha-Linoleic acid.  It was well known to ancient cultures in the Mideast and Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine for bee stings and snake bites. Pliny advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.

Here in a America, purslane was relegated to the status of a weed. Crop rows and sidewalks across the country are sprayed with herbicides to eradicate this perceived nuisance.  It thrives in harsh, dry climates and, as a companion plant, enables less hardy plants to survive by helping the root systems reach greater depths.  It also helps create a beneficial microclimate and stabilize moisture levels–not to mention, it is delicious!

This recipe takes about 30 minutes.  The sauteed purslane and lacinato kale rolls may be prepared individually, but I chose to combine them for complimentary flavor and drama of presentation.

Lacinato Kale Roll with Sautéed Purslane

Makes 8 rolls, serves 4 to 8

Sauteed Purslane

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 cup spring onions, sliced

2 bunches, or 6 cups, purslane, washed, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon sea salt

In a 12 inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper for 5 to 10 seconds or until the garlic and chiles sizzle. Add the onion, purslane and sea salt. Cook for 30 seconds, cover and turn down to a simmer.

Sauce

1/2 cup Vegenaise, vegan mayonnaise

2 1/2 tablespoons roasted red pepper

2 teaspoons organic tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a separate bowl, whisk together all sauce ingredients.

Filling and assembly

1/2 cup chopped basil leaves

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard

In another thoroughly fold together all filling ingredients.

Assembly

8 large lacinato kale leaves, stemmed

Place 1 heaping tablespoon at the top of the kale leaf and, while folding the

side edges in, roll the leaf into a stuffed grape leaf shape.  Steam for 12 minutes on medium high heat.  Place 1 cup purslane on plate, place one roll on top and top with 1 ½ tablespoons sauce.

Serve while hot.

 

Cauliflower with Saffron and Peas, A Super-Food Combination

Cauliflower has come into its own over the last few years.  No longer taking a back seat at the markets to colorful vegetables, it is now at the forefront, available in orange, purple and, my favorite as of late, a verdant Romanesco. Everyone from Dr. Dean Ornish to Dr. Mehmet Oz has proclaimed the value of foods with color; colorful cauliflower has joined the ranks of cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables.  Good for the liver and full of phyto-chemicals, it is healthiest steamed or eaten raw.


Known as one of the rarest and most expensive spices, saffron is an ancient spice collected from the stamens of a crocus flower.  Traces have been found in Iranian pigments dating back 50,000 years and in ancient Minoan Thera, 3000 year old frescos of Akrotiri show women harvesting and using it. While bathing in Persia, Alexander the Great discovered saffron as a curative for the wounds of war and brought it back with him to Greece.  Cleopatra took saffron baths to increase the pleasure of lovemaking.  Recent studies have found it to contain cancer-fighting properties as well as powerful anti-oxidant compounds and Ayurveda medicine tells us it is good for the brain.  It is often combined with sandalwood paste as a topical treatment to cool the head.

Saffron is commonly used in Indian cooking where it is considered a delicacy.  Inspired by the rich flavor and creamy dishes of Kashmir in Northern India, this recipe combines the two super foods, saffron and cauliflower, into a delicious side dish.  English peas are added for color and texture and is an easy to digest protein.  The cauliflower is steamed and the peas blanched to preserve healthy properties.


Kashmiri Cauliflower with Saffron and Peas

Serves 4


Saffron-Almond Sauce
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 cup sweet onions, finely diced
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
1 cup almond milk
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon sea salt


Heat oil in a 12 quart saucepan on medium heat.  Add onions and cook until clear.  Add almond flour, almond milk, water pepper, saffron and salt.  Cook until sauce thickens.  Reserve.


Cauliflower
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon green chilies, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 cups cauliflower florets, steamed
3/4 cup shelled English peas, blanched
1 cup cilantro, chopped


Heat oil in a skillet on medium-high heat.  Add cumin seeds and cook until brown and fragrant, then add chilies.  10 seconds later, add molasses and cinnamon. Stir in water and sea salt.  Allow most of the water to evaporate.  Gently fold in cauliflower until the florets are coated.  Fold in saffron sauce and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes.  Just before serving, fold in English peas and cilantro.  Serve immediately.