Purslane is in season here, and if you’ve had the chance to buy it straight from a grower, you know that it’s far more active of a plant than it might look on the shelf of Whole Foods. Purslane is no wimpy pile of leaves; it’s a big, flowery, almost overgrown plant, with thick stems the size of garlic scapes and row after row of firm, round leaves. It announces itself by looks alone, and with its bright, tangy flavor, boy does it pack a punch.
The stems of purslane, I recently discovered, are quite mucilaginous, not unlike okra. I tried to saute them in a bit of olive oil and I ended up with a stew the texture of gumbo. Next time, I’ll leave the stems whole and either grill them, or saute them in a very hot pan with very hot oil, to keep the goo at bay.
But the leaves, that’s where the fun is. Purslane is tart, like sorrel, which makes it a perfect pair for summer’s sweetest melons.
Last week, when most of what we had in the house consisted of tomatoes in one form or another, I did manage to get my hands on both this purslane and a beautiful cantaloupe. I’d also bought a fresh block of feta, which added the much-needed salty component to this salad. The dressing was an entirely unfussy combination of sherry vinegar and good olive oil (substitute red wine vinegar if you don’t have sherry), with a bit of flaky salt and pepper. And because I couldn’t resist using some of the beautiful spearmint that I’d bought for the most amazing soup ever (stay tuned), that went in, too. Super simple, really refreshing.
If you’ve found purslane and are looking for other things to do with it, here are a few recommendations:
- Use as a bed for steak salad or duck confit
- Add to potato salad; dress with a spicy, mustard-heavy dressing
- Toss with sesame noodles; dress with a thin, soy-based dressing heavy on the sesame oil
- Combine with sauteed tofu, julienned carrots, and some avocado in rice paper rolls; serve with peanut sauce
Purslane Salad with Cantaloupe and Feta
serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer or component of a meal
1 big bunch of purslane
2 cups diced cantaloupe
5 oz. good, briny feta cheese, crumbled or cubed (your choice)
3 sprigs spearmint or peppermint, just leaves
2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
flaky salt and pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon each, less if your salt is fine)
Separate the thin stems and their attached leaves from the thick central branch, and cut them into smallish sprigs.
Toss purslane, cantaloupe, feta, and mint in a large bowl.
Combine sherry, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and whisk until combined. Drizzle over salad and toss to combine. Spoon out onto small plates and serve immediately.