On a recent trip to Borough Market I came across an old friend I haven’t seen since my New York days, where many happy hours were spent wandering around Union Square Greenmarket, marvelling at the abundance of colourful, locally grown produce - Purslane. A healthy bundle was selling for half the price of a handful of basil. It was my best purchase of the day.
I've often wondered why purslane is not more widely available here; in London it rarely appears on restaurant menus, despite the current trend for unusual leaves and foraged foods. Yet the plant is jam packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as a surprisingly high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids, more than any other leafy vegetable. Move over mackerel? Well not quite - oily fish have four times as much of the same fatty acids - but still impressive.
Common purslane was once a regular feature of medieval kitchen gardens, The earliest known salad recipe, written around 1390, calls for purslane, along with parsley, sage, onions, borage, fennel, cress and rosemary. These days it can still be found growing wild in the British Isles, although according to forager Miles Irving it may be relatively scarce due to a dislike of frost. In the right conditions, a cosy vegetable garden for instance, it grows like a weed. You can eat every bit of it - stalks, flowers, leaves and seeds.
Its emerald leaves are reminiscent of lambs lettuce, but these are juicy, almost fleshy, rather than paper thin. Their succulence might seem almost slimy to some, but this disappears when dressed with oil and the overall result is a rich mouthfeel. The taste reminds me of a cross between spinach, sorrel and aloe vera. It is juicy and crunchy, with a light, cleansing astringency.
I like to serve purslane simply tossed in a lively, fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. It's great with lamb, fish or tomatoes, off the top of my head. We tossed a few handfuls into a hot pan sizzling with olive oil, garlic, chilli and just cooked prawns and it was delicious - half raw, half wilted and tart enough to replace the lemon juice we would normally squeeze over.
Keep an eye out for purslane for sale, either in a market or nursery near you.