Purslane ~ love from 1st sight

August 2020

Could you imagine the world without green? Those beautiful shades of green, from sparkling and translucent in the spring to calm and profound in the autumn? Me not, not at all. Green is the synthesis of life and all the rest of the colours make the life bouquet more vivid and abundant. I love that expression of Nature immensely and green inspires me a lot to play and make food interpretations. In my own Mediterranean way ~ simple and special, full of flavour and inviting us to have a bite, and then another one, and another one. To enjoy the food slowly, with care and respect. And to be full of happiness and gratitude that each season Nature is so generous to us with its gifts. We just need to be attentive and bring its fruits to our table. 

This article is a continuation of both my recipes with Bulgarian greens and a story I wrote about Crete last October. An island which is abundant in precious wild greens embodied in the Cretan diet, an inseparable part of the live eating culture on the island nowadays. Purslane is a beloved summer green with succulent leaves and is described as a magical plant in antiquity. It is common in the Mediterranean countries and is found in Bulgaria too. A valuable weed, rich in protective nutrients, that we could have at hand in the hot summer weeks. While walking on the cobbled stone paths in Millies village in Pelion and noticing the weed in my feet, my Greek friend told me a curious story. “Purslane is the only plant nominated with a Goddess in ancient Greece. So precious!”

I love it for its green grassy flavours and the many possibilities for pairing with other flavours, just holding a bunch in my hand the taste ideas start flowing effortlessly. I appreciate it for its being also nutrient dense with anti-inflammatory and immune system stimulating capacity. It aids our digestion flow and is beneficial for the skin. It is unique with its Omega 3 content, and also with the abundance of tocopherols in the form of vit. E, known for their antioxidant activity (circa 80% of RDA per 100g).

Vit. C is also at good levels (25% of RDA) and when consumed fresh its effect is maximized in combination with other veggies (e.g. tomatoes). Vit. A is common for purslane as well. The green is with a low calorific value of 20 kcal per 100g and is also a good source of Magnesium (19% of RDA). People with kidney stones issues, however, need to be more careful as it contains some oxalate.

In a nutshell, that green gem is a must for our summer plates! I found in on the market in Sofia and have been experimenting with it these last two weeks. So here come some ideas for my seasonal pairings. Purslane loves EVOO too and combining different olive oil profiles with it was pretty enjoyable. I brought some EVOOs from my last Greek trip and was a genuine delight to bond their flavors with the ones of purslane. 

Eggs love purslane, a discovery that could make anyone’s senses happy. I chopped the greens coarsely and added them to the almost cooked scrambled eggs. 1-2 min. more and this summer kind of omelette is done. We don’t need to overdo the cooking for the greens to preserve the flavours and their full benefits. I added some very aromatic Cretan oregano with deep sunny flavours and a spicy paprika that I brought from Ayvalik in Turkey, the perfect pair for an extra boost of the egg mix. Apart from the simpler EVOO that I used for frying the eggs, I chose a complex Picual with some radiant green and riper fruity notes to give the dish a final special touch. And a spicy kick, as the Picual variety is famous for its prominent Pungency. 

In summary, for 2 people I would suggest 4 large eggs (I break them directly in the pan heated with a t.s. of EVOO, to keep their flavours and texture more intact) and handfuls of chopped purslane. A fine drizzle of an EVOO with pronounced characteristics just before serving the dish. Oregano, paprika and sea salt join as per one’s taste, yet I would go for this triple and more generous approach to give extra richness and lusciousness to the seasonal eggs – as only the sunny Summer could do for us.

Another idea is to pair purslane with some classics ~ pasta with tomato sauce. I adore tomatoes and when sunny, sweet and from the garden the sauce turns into magic. It is very balanced and natural in its sweetness and acidity, sometimes the acidity level could be problematic when the tomatoes are just not right and from a “nursery”. Purslane, I assure you, loves that combination too. I experimented with two types of dry pasta ~ one with eggs in the dough and the other one without and requiring 10-12 min. of boiling until al dente. My strong recommendation would go for a durum wheat pasta w/o eggs, just semolina, water and salt as the flavours are concentrated and clean and when combined with the tomatoes and greens they get this magical completeness. A perfection! 

I open a bracket here that I’m “fanatic” about pasta and pasta to be always right ~ to be from durum wheat/semolina flour and cooked al dente. It makes such a difference in the taste, but also how our body and digestion appreciate its beneficial properties. I still remember the words of my Italian boss during my working in Moscow ~ “a dry pasta boiled less than 12 min. couldn’t be right”. Certainly, as any other Italian he was very sensitive to the topic of pasta and food in general, but also had had some years in the pasta business and knew a lot about the secrets of a good pasta. The durum wheat which is not common world-wide (around 10% of the world production) is specific with the hardness of the grain and unlike the bread softer varieties of wheat, the gluten is not released so effortlessly from the endosperm, therefore the “gluten grid” is not so solid. It is rarely used for bread making (except for some local breads in the south of Italy, also I’ve tasted such in Greece) as the structure of the bread  remains very compact and solid.

The al dente cooked pasta is an art, and I’ve seen it by myself that this art is acquired with patience and experience during the years. And now, just a bite tells me immediately if it is right or not. When biting a penne for instance the sensation is as if it is slightly hard, yet delightfully elastic without having the notion of flour in the centre. When the pasta or the risotto are cooked al dente not only the flavour perception is enjoyable and richer, but also the digestion is eased and the glycaemic index is lower dur to the lower levels of released starch. The latter is due to the structure of the grain of the durum wheat varieties of wheat ~ the starch gets “capsulated” in the gluten grid. One more tip is the water we boil the pasta to be “with the taste of the sea” as the Italians say.

Coming back to our pasta with purslane, let me share a few details around the sauce itself and the pasta type I would choose for this dish. For 2 people I take 2 large sweet garden tomatoes, discard the skin and dice them (cubes 1 x 1 cm). I simmer the tomatoes for around 20 min. to thicken. Usually the summer varieties of sweet tomatoes have sufficient pulp and don’t require much time to lose the water. Only then I add some EVOO (a t.s. per person), some sea salt and pepper to taste, a mountain herb mix (thyme, oregano) and 2-3 cloves of garlic for the lovers of its flavours. Another 10 min. at low heat and the base sauce is ready. Alternatively, one might add some capers (buds or fruit) and de-pitted olives (I prefer normally salted taggiasca), or a pinch of pepperoncino. For the tomato ~ purslane pairing I would leave the sauce simple, just tomatoes, spices and herbs. In winter I use sunny home preserved tomatoes in a jar and follow the same steps. What always makes a difference in the taste of the sauce, and before adding the pasta, is to leave it for 10-15 min. aside covered with a lid, to rest for all the flavours to bond in harmony.

As mentioned earlier for the tomato sauce pasta recipes I prefer dry pasta (pasta secca) to fresh one (pasta fresca). I take 80-100g of dry pasta per person that normally doubles its size when boiled. 100g of boiled pasta is circa 160kcal, the carbs being 31% in average. Together with the tomatoes and purslane it is a very balanced and wholesome meal, calory-wise is much admissible as well. I choose penne, or paccheri, or orecchiette, or any shape that could “hold” some of the sauce so one has this delightfully rich juicy sensation. There are so many local varieties of pasta so that we have many choices among the more than 300 shapes recorded. In this recipe I used a traditional durum wheat pasta which I brought from Pelion called touritellia that had similar “sauce holding” effect?

A generous handful of purslane leaves that I add on top of the mixed pasta and sauce, along with 1-2 t.s. of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. What makes a true difference and adds some vigor and freshness is an EVOO with pronounced characteristics, for that special final touch! In this case I chose Amfissis early harvest from Pelion with well-expressed herbaceous and fresh cut grass notes on the nose and some ripe tomato and green apple on the palate. This oil has a medium Pungency that complements ideally the tomato sauce. 

Another inspiration came this morning while looking at the ripe inviting figs that are available to us in August. Figs are a wonderful fruit, both fresh and dried, a good source of dietary fibre and some B vitamins. It has the natural sweetness that complements well yoghurt and nuts for breakfast. I made a fantastic fig~purslane lassi with yoghurt and a t.s. of EVOO. I chose an elegant blend of Spanish cultivars high in the beneficial phenolic compounds and with a medium Pungency to give a final rounded touch to my lassi. It’s worth to give it a try, certainly! It turned refreshing, reenergizing, delicious and supportive to the digestion flow with the fibres and goodness of the Bulgarian yoghurt bacteria. For 1 bowl I used 200g of full fat yoghurt (4.5%), 2 figs (100-120g), a handful of coarsely chopped purslane (leaves and stalks) and 1 t.s. of EVOO. Circa 350 nutritious and delicious kcal to kick off the new day!

And finally, let me finish with some extra greenness and share a loving avocado ~ purslane combination. A cream ideal for an energizing breakfast. The novelty here is that I add finely chopped purslane (in case the stems are very solid I discard them, if they are fine, a chop all together) and some sumac to give a special sensation to the avocado cream. A touch of lemon, sea salt crystals and 2 t.s. of a highly pungent EVOO with well expressed green notes of green almond, olive and dandelion leaves. I chose the Cretan Tsounati variety with a very elegant and persistent body that lasts and thus pairs fantastically with the avocado ~ purslane combination. And this green, green and luscious cream is ready. With some bread or/and poached eggs it goes perfectly for breakfast of for a light lunch.

Purslane is a versatile green, it could enrich many different dishes with its green freshness and nutritious benefits. Its deliciousness is enormous and creative imagination flies high too.

I wish you an ultimate delight for the senses!

~ we are what we live ~ we are what we eat ~ food for change ~