Monday, July 30, 2012

Purslane Quesadilla



If you have ever ogled someone’s jade plant, and imagined yanking off one of those succulently fleshy leaves and popping it in your mouth—have I got a weed wild edible for you! It’s purslane, and it may well be growing in your garden, yard, or sidewalk cracks. If you think it might be, just do a Google image search to check—it’s pretty distinctive looking. I have a lovely patch that recurs by our back steps, and the children call purslane “Chapter 1” in the Crazy Shit Our Mother Ate memoir they’re plotting.

I must add here that the person who taught me to eat purslane in the first place was my own mother. So maybe Volume II can be Crazy Shit Our Grandma Ate.
Pretty much every morning in the months of July and August, I dart out the back door to pick a handful for my breakfast quesadilla, and I love it. It’s crunchy and lemony and slippery, like a cross between okra and sorrel and the way you think it would be to bite into one of those juicy-looking seaweed pods you see washed up on the shore. (“Chapter 2” of the kids’ book is Seaweed, which I am always surreptitiously nibbling at the beach—especially those chartreuse ruffles that look like how you would draw lettuce if you were tripping.) 
Birdy with lettuce seaweed, circa 2007. Picture courtesy of Uncle Barbara, aka Michael's lovely step-mother.
I just asked Birdy to describe purslane, and the adjectives she picked were slimy and leafy. Hm. Wikipedia describes it as mucilaginous. Sure. That—and more! Because you should know this: purslane is a superfood. One day, everyone’s going to be eating it for its insane concentrations of Omega 3, vitamins, and minerals—and you’re going to say you knew it when.

There might be a moment when you notice that your quesadilla is covered in little black specks, and you'll think Fuck, it's caterpillar shit. But it's not. It's purslane seeds, and they're really good for you.
This quesadilla is my very favorite way to eat it, although I would like to try putting purslane in potato salad, which I think would be fantastic, and cooking it with pintos, which I’ve heard is good. I have tried pickling it, which was oddly disappointing, and when it’s very large and the stems get thick, I stir-fry it, which is good. It is surprisingly bad in smoothies. A friend in California once made me a fattoush salad of purslane, torn pita bread, and tomatoes, and it was once of the best things I ever tasted. Birdy eats lots of it plain, while she stands contemplatively by the back steps. And we just ordered a lovely salad from the Sunbird fish taco truck in Wellfleet, and I got a high-five for identifying the purslane leaves. Rock on, wild things.


Purslane Quesadilla
Makes 1

I know you don’t need me to tell you how to make a quesadilla. And yet it’s funny that I never have, given that we eat them morning, noon, and night. When purslane is not in season, I use kale, spinach, dandelion greens, or slivered cabbage.

Butter
2 corn tortillas
Sliced or grated cheese (Monterey Jack, pepper Jack, or cheddar)
1 handful purslane stems and leaves, rinsed if necessary
Hot sauce, etc. for topping

Heat a little butter in a small pan over medium heat. When it is hot, lay a tortilla in a pan, then top it with cheese, then lay another tortilla over the top. Now watch. At a certain point, not only will the bottom tortilla be beautifully golden-brown, but you will see the whole little package steam and swell, which means that it will be crisp and puffy, rather than dry and leathery. Flip it and cook the bottom side until brown.

Remove the quesadilla to a plate, open it up to add the purslane and hot sauce, then sandwich it all back together and cut in quarters. Divine.






25 comments:

  1. A patch of purslane in your yard equates to Living the Dream as far as I'm concerned. Around here we only get weeds that refuse to pull their weight.

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  2. heather12:51 PM

    now, this is why I read this column. nice tip! I make my family eat dandelion and wild watercress and everything else I can get my hands on, but never done purslane. and what a word 'purslane'. sweet!

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  3. Sunski1:33 PM

    At the house we just moved out of in December, we had more purslane than anyone would know what to do with. Unfortunately, though we lived there for seven years, it wasn't until the last summer that we were there that I figured out that the obnoxius weed in my garden was (maybe? probably?) edible. I was too big of a wuss to try it. Now that I have this lovely info from you, I have no purslane!

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  4. Yay for wild weeds! I have a nice purslane patch infiltrating the carrot bed, which is a bit of a Sophie's Choice gardening dilemma. We love purslane raw in salads. I like picturing Birdy eating purslane contemplatively.

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  5. Made a breakfast quesadilla after reading this, but had only baby spinach for the greens. Lame. But then I scored a lovely bunch of purslane from the farmer's market this afternoon from an Amherst farm, no less. So the breakfast quesadilla tomorrow will be much improved! I literally started eating it in line while waiting to pay. But of course my favorite part of this blog entry was the line about the caterpillar shit.

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  6. Siobhan10:43 PM

    So excited to see the title of this entry!! We love purslane, better known as "verdolagas" in our house! My husband is Mexican and he introduced me to verdolagas a long time ago so we we're thrilled when we started finding them at our local farmer's market a few years back. We eat them alot in quesadillas although we sautee the verdolagas and then add them to the quesadillas. However, a typical Mexican way to cook them which is delicious is in a stew-type dish that is essentially made up of: salsa verde, pork short ribs, diced potatoes and purslane. Wonderful combination!!

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  7. Anonymous2:20 PM

    Love your site which I only discovered a month ago. Purslane?! You introduce me to things I have never, ever, even heard of before for which I thank you! I look forward to reading many, MANY, more posts. PS. I also bought your book, Kindle version, from Amazon. Lovely book! KFB from BCN

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  8. Jennifer LB6:36 PM

    HOW did you know purslane would be in our CSA share yesterday?

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  9. canadian fan9:48 PM

    Found some growing in the middle of the driveway! Never been so excited about a weed. And love the line about the caterpillar shit.

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  10. Angela9:38 AM

    Oh! That's what that weed is! I never thought of eating it, now I will try a munch...

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  11. Okay, I have been yanking this weed out of my driveway and yard all summer, so I read this entry with skepticism. Surely, I thought, purslane is not the same thing I've got? Surely people are not paying good money to buy this stuff? But I went home and studied what I've got, and I tentatively nibbled it. And my son, adventurous eater that he is, tried it too, and we both love it. I am a convert! Thank you!

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  12. Francine2:49 PM

    Seeing and smelling the seaweed on the Cape two weeks ago, I wondered if I could use some in a recipe and told myself that, surely, Catherine Newman would know about that... :)
    For now, I study the weeds around here trying to identify the purslane, but no luck so far. Thank you again for all (did the "Cake you want" 3 times since beginning of the summer for various anniversaries, and we had the smoky shrimps last night. It was just wonderfully good. I proclamed to the Universe (four at the table) that it was my new favorite meal now, equal to spaghetti with olive oil and salt or my sister's tofu sauce. They are now both on the podium with one gold medal each.

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  13. I believe "Fuck, it's caterpillar shit" shall become my go-to expletive to utter in times of frustration!

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  14. Anonymous11:04 AM

    Reading Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies last night, and what does the main character eat but a simple salad of purslane!

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  15. Is this the same weed as "pigweed"?

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  16. Thanks for the line: "Fuck, it's caterpillar shit. But it's not." The fridge's been out for a week and the AC isn't working either, but that got a big laugh out of me this morning.

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  17. Anonymous3:50 PM

    Do you know, my garden was *full* of this stuff two weeks ago and I yanked it all out and trashed it! Doh!

    I have only the caterpillar shit line to console myself, but it is enough.

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  18. I snorted at the caterpillar shit comment. All of my in-laws say callapillar, which drives me insane.
    I want so badly to have something edible in my yard, but I don't think we have any purslane. I had never even heard of it until I saw some Scarlett Johanson (or however you spell it) movie where I'm pretty sure that was her name.

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  19. I just made a smoothie out of purslane today. I got my 4 year old to try it when I picked it from our neighbor's yard, but she spit it out. It makes a good green smoothie.

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  20. We have a huge, beautiful patch of purslane near us...which is growing, sadly, on a busy street corner with lots of car-dirt and dog pee. :( I may just have to transplant some to my own yard.

    On the bright side, we have some big, lovely sorrel in our yard, so that's nice.

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  21. Well, shit. I'll be. Eating this tomorrow.

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  22. You've changed my life with this purslane knowledge! My son and I just found sound growing near the driveway, and I've transplanted some to the garden. Next up: a purslane quesadilla! Thanks, Catherine!

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  23. modified my lifestyle with this purslane knowledge! My son and I just discovered audio increasing near the drive way, and I've replanted some to the lawn. Next up: a purslane quesadilla!

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  24. Anonymous7:00 AM

    I sell purslane at our local farmers market, mainly as a defensive measure since it is one of the most prolific weeds in our gardens. A mother with three kids gets a bunch of it regularly and they finish it before they even leave the market.

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  25. I am so frustrated right now!! I had so much purselane growing in the rocks and yard 2 years ago, I was constantly pulling it out! Big ones, little ones everywhere in the sidewalk cracks and lawn edges. Now that I know it's edible I want to try some and there's NOTHING!

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