Hunched over in my garden, diligently pulling out leafy things, binding things, yellowing things and unwanted life, I have spent many hours tending and weeding and will do for many more to come this season. For weeks now, the amaranth and strangling-vines have been the superstars of my humble plot. But the most prolific, is the tender, juicy, and edible of the bunch: purslane. Purslane is a delicious succulent, mildly tasting of lemon and full of Omega-3 fatty acids. I discovered purslane working on a farm in Cambridge, ON in 2006, when my coworker, Jaime, explained to me the brilliance of this yummy and totally freewheeling “weed”. One day I thought it would be a nice touch to deliver some of it to see what the reaction would be of Chef Jonathan Gushue at Langdon Hall, and find out if it would be something he might like to use in the kitchens there. He loved it, and I allowed the unrelenting plant to grow between rows in order to keep him in constant supply. Since then, I haven’t really paid much attention to those waxy looking emerald-green leaves and robust, pink-ish stems between the cracks in the sidewalks of Toronto’s downtown, until this summer when it is basically taking over my veggie patch.
So, I have embraced the little buggers and have come up with a much more glamorous plan for them. With the adventurous spirit of my friends at Union 72 on Ossington, they have been a garnish there for several weeks now when Chef Dan DeMatteis is at the helm in the kitchen. Most Thursdays I take over a bag full of them, and hope that they will be put to use. Not exactly sure how many of them have been, or if customers are willing to eat the squiggly things on their plate, but at least all of my hard work weeding has a second life in an excellent restaurant. Needless to say I haven’t really used them for my own consumption except for a few smoothies, and a few leaves thrown on a salad, most of it just goes happily to the restaurant.
Last night, however, I was spontaneously over for dinner at my friend’s house, and as he had been away all weekend for work, had very little in his fridge save a ripe mango, a jar of roasted red peppers, and some expired condiments. I climbed up onto his garage roof, where last summer, there was an abundance of yummy greens to choose from in an elaborate container garden. Last year’s roommate had quite the green thumb. This year, my trek up the ladder was less than satisfactory, but I noticed there was quite a good amount of purslane valiantly growing where nothing else had been planted. Success! I climbed back down with no idea what I would do with it, but a grin from ear to ear.
The salad was a surprisingly delicious accompaniment to the spicy fennel and garlic sausages from Provenance Regional Cuisine which I just happened to be carrying with me on my way home from work. It is truly amazing what one can come up with challenged with little planning, few ingredients, and a sense of adventure. Eat weeds and life is more fun! Guaranteed, and free! This morning, I enthusiastically harvested all of the plants for their weekly appearance in fine dining, and then cautiously asked my neighbour if I could come over the fence to harvest some of hers. She couldn’t understand why, and was pleased to allow me to weed her garden for her. I can’t wait to try all sorts of new recipes with purslane. If you have any, please share.
Summer Fresh Purslane-Mango Salad
2 Cups Purslane, not packed down, well washed and roots trimmed off
1 Mango, ripe
1 Large Roasted Red Pepper (the kind you get in a jar)
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Roasted Red Pepper Juices/brine
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2-3/4 tsp (or to taste) Chili Powder
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the mango into cubes, break apart the purslane into small bite-sized pieces, leaves and stems included. Slice the red pepper and combine in a bowl. Whisk all dressing ingredients in a separate bowl and then toss in with salad. Enjoy!