What's In Season: Wild, Underfoot, Delicious

Like dandelion greens in mid-spring, purslane in late summer is lunch hiding in plain sight. Stroll in a garden or walk through a meadow and you’ll see it: bright green, paddle-shaped leaves, thick reddish stems, and tiny yellow flowers—all edible, all delectable.

    Native to India and now found worldwide, purslane has a sweet/sour tang that enlivens salads as well as soups. It earns bonus points as a thickener, like okra, in broth, and as a pickle—just add the stems and leaves to your favorite brine. Steam it or sauté it with some butter and you have a side dish as healthy as it is zesty, thanks to a pastureful of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and vitamin C. And while we’re talking health, don’t endanger yours by mistaking purslane for the similar-looking, poisonous spurge if out foraging. Spurge stems are wiry and ooze a milky substance when broken. Purslane’s thicker stems’ secretion is clear. Whether foraging or purchasing, once you get your purslane home, rinse it, trim the stem bottoms, wrap loosely in moist paper towels, seal in plastic, and refrigerate for up to a week. It’ll stay fresh, bright, and ready to go to work.

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    At Carmel, New York’s Blackboard Bistro (166 Stoneleigh Ave 845-276-8100; blackboardbistrony.com), purslane’s primary job is in tabbouleh, where Chef/Owner Gary Mongero prefers it to the more typical parsley. “It’s not as sharp,” he says. “The flavor is more subtle and the texture is smoother.” It’s also employed in his summer salad of baby arugula and spinach, pea tendrils, and couscous dressed with apple vinaigrette. And there’s a side job accompanying lentils and the tomatoes that grow in his restaurant’s garden alongside zucchini and herbs. Those he cultivates, purslane he doesn’t; last year, one of his cooks spied it cohabitating with his mint. “I love that it grows wild, that it’s directly from nature,” says Mongero, whose farm-centric ingredients are about 95 percent organic.
If you find no purslane of your own, get some of Honey Locust Farm House’s at many of our greenmarkets. For us August kitchen slackers, it’ll do plenty of overtime.  

Purslane Tabbouleh (Courtesy of Gary Mongero, Blackboard Bistro)
(Yield: 4 to 6 servings)

2 ¼ cups water                                                                                                                                           
1 cup bulgur                                                                                                                                          
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely diced                                                                                                                              
At least ¾ cup purslane leaves, roughly chopped                                                                                                                                      
2 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                                                          
2 lemons, juiced                                                                                                                                         
1 tsp cumin                                                                                                                                          
½  tsp black pepper, finely ground salt, to taste

In a medium pot, bring water to a boil, and then turn off heat. Stir in bulgur, then cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain if all water has not been absorbed, and then place bulgur in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Chill for 3 hours to blend flavors. Serve chilled with pita bread.

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