Saturday, September 08, 2007

Plenitude II

Because the front plot is so sunny and on a slope, it's nearly impossible to keep things wet and alive there. I've tried just about everything to remedy this, too, from using a sprinkler to mulching and even levelling it. I always ended up with the same results: dead, dry annuals, wasted water and a gutter full of topsoil.

After about year two of knocking myself out fighting nature, I gave up and started filling the place with more drought-tolerant perennials. Right now, I think I have a couple varieties of stonecrop and some liveforever. Nice, low maintenance (save for the weeding), good for holding in the soil.

This summer, a coworker of mine who's an avid gardener with lots of money and space to devote towards heirloom tomatoes started asking me if I'd take some purslane off her hands. It apparently was growing so out of control that it was choking out her babies. Never one to say no to free, green and organic, I jumped at the offer and found myself with bushels of the stuff. What a treat!

How nice, too, to find out that this green, a succulent tasting a bit like baby spinach and watercress, was growing like gangbusters along side my purchased groundcover! I'd thought it a weed, but kept it there because it looked like a native variety of the expensive perennial I got at the local garden boutique.

Since there was so much of it, I had ample opportunity to share and experiment. (Turns out that my neighbors are crazy about portulacca, as they call it in Eye-talian. They only ate it raw, though. Until now, that is.) I've had it in salads, soups, omelettes, and, my favorite, stir-fries. All this was made even sweeter by my discovery of it selling for roughly $4-$5/lb at the farmers' markets that have cropped up volunteer-like in the gentrified areas of the city.

Edible purslane (Portulaca oleracea) has glossy, plump, green leaves and juicy red stems.

Don't mistake it for spurge (Chamaesyce maculata), which looks kind of like the good eatin' stuff save for flatter leaves with a red spot and spindlier stems, or you're going to get sick.


One of my favorite recipes so far:

Sautéed Purslane With Shitake Mushrooms

A couple handsful (4-5 cups) of purslane, rinsed thoroughly and broken up into manageable-sized bits

1/2 cup shitake or other mushrooms - either dried and soaked or fresh.

herbs (I used a couple sprigs of fresh tarragon and thyme, but a half teaspoon of whatever your favorite dried variety will work, too), salt and pepper to taste

A clove or two of garlic, minced

2-3 TBS olive oil

Heat oil in saucepan, then add garlic. When garlic is a bit golden (but not brown! Yuck!), add herbs, then purslane. Sauté until purslane is slightly softened, then add mushrooms and continue until those are tender.

Serves 2-3.

Great with broiled chicken, pork chops, steak, you name it.

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