Pickled Purslane

I love purslane.

The first time I had purslane was when I was invited to a former student’s house for lunch. She made a traditional Mexican pork stew with “verdolagas” or what we call purslane, tomatillos (another favorite) and peppers. It was delicious.

I’ve never been much of a meat-eater, and the pork was fine as pork goes, but the thing that caught my eye was the verdolagas. Through some discussion and some internet research, I read up on purslane, and shortly thereafter, I started seeing it pop up wildly beneath my burgeoning tomato plants. Thus began my love affair with this little, nutritious weed.

Purslane is a spring and summer annual that grows in sparse rosettes from a main stem. They almost beg to be eaten with those beautiful, succulent trunks, the rich, rounded leaves and (later) delightful yellow flowers.

In the early season, (maybe mid-May in southern New England), the rounded leaves pop up out of the soil. They are profound growers, and show up literally out of nowhere, so you really have to watch for them and maintain a patch or they will take over. It’s a nice problem to have, but still can be a problem if you’re not diligent.

I maintain a small patch of purslane and weed the rest out. When weeding, I take the most beautiful ones home to eat and compost the rest. Justin reminds me that purslane is a beneficial plant and does not siphon nutrients from other plants. Maybe I won’t pull any of them up next year!

They are a great beginner foraging plant because they’re easily identifiable, and I don’t think there are any poisonous lookalikes.

We make purslane into lots of different things, depending on the time of year. In the early season, they are very tender: we eat the entire thing aside from the roots. We toss in salads, or mix with other greens and spices and make a type of condiment (for which I don’t think we even have a name).

As the season moves through hotter temperatures, the stems swell into big, fat, luscious, but also a bit less tender, treats: This is when we pickle them.

You can do this any way you want. I like to keep things simple, and I hate to waste things. I just make them with leftover pickle juice, but you could easily brine or vinegar pickle them. I like the flavor of this particular pickle that we’ve been buying at Shaws (Safeway for the leftcoasters), and I amend it with just a little garlic and powdered hot peppers.

When I’m pickling just the stems, I separate the tender stalks from the stems, then cut the stems to about the size of the jar where I will pack them. Because I don’t make a large quantity, and they’re refrigerator pickles, I don’t bother with the grape or horseradish leaves; I simply crush a garlic clove, drop in the jar, sprinkle some ground hot pepper powder in, pack with the purslane, pour the heated pickle juice and wait.

And honestly, I didn’t wait that long before I was snacking on these spicy little sticks! Someone recommended 3 days, but I was in that jar fewer than 24 hours, lol.

Our favorite way to use them is to chop them up as-is and use as a condiment on our favorite vegetarian sushi.

Maki rolls with spicy purslane pickles.

Obligatory American statement: Obviously, you should do more research before you eat anything out of the ground. Once you’ve confirmed without question what you have, I hope you truly enjoy these tasty, nutritious, easily-foraged weeds.


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