Photo Credit: Shrimp farming in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Mike Lusmore/Duckrabbit, 2012 via Flickr.com user WorldFish

A New Perspective on Plant Pests

Author Darrin Nordahl's food blog Today is...Fava Beans highlights a different food everyday along with a creative way to easily add it to our everyday diet. Today's food changed the way I think about food, nutrition, and the environment. It is my epiphany food. And it is a pernicious, detestable weed.
Today is purslane.
Purslane (also known as pigweed) is a succulent that has naturalized in almost every garden in America. Though not as denigrated as dandelion, purslane is equally loathsome to the suburban keeper of lawns and gardens. When I was living in Iowa, I noticed purslane had taken over my neighbor's yard one summer. He and his family went on vacation for just a few days. But in that one week, purslane staked its claim in his lawn and raised vegetable beds. You would have thought my neighbor became a purslane farmer it was so rampant.
He was furious. I was curious. He saw scourge. I saw food.
I became fascinated with purslane when I saw it for sale at a farmer's market one summer in the Bay Area. $3.00 for a small bunch! Three bucks for a weed that you can find anywhere, and pluck for free. I asked the farmer more about the purslane, and she informed me it is a very popular vegetable in China, revered for its mucilaginous texture (remember, it is a succulent) and its nutritive properties.
Purslane is a decent source of vitamins A and C, and contains a smattering of minerals. But purslane's knockout nutritive benefit is its concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids.  Purslane has more omega-3s than any other leaf vegetable! In particular, it has levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) beyond any other land-based produce item. EPA is a particularly healthy fatty acid, usually only found in seaweed, algae, or oily fish, like mackerel, sardines, and herring. Which means if you are not big on seafood, you are likely missing out on this healthy compound. Unless you incorporate purslane into your diet.
Unlike dandelions and other weedy greens, purslane is not bitter. In fact, there isn't a whole lot of taste. I get a very mild okra flavor with a bit of tartness. But the flavor is clean, as purslane is mostly water. And that clean, modestly tart taste lends itself to a variety of recipes. Its delicate brightness helps bolster flavor; and the succulent stems provide a satisfying crunch.
I find purslane quite versatile. Like spinach and rocket, purslane is fantastic raw or wilted. Add raw purslane to your salad (it is especially good with Greek salads, providing a nice complement to feta cheese). I often sauté purslane with a bit of onion or ginger and serve it as simple side vegetable. When the purslane gets aggressive in my yard, one of my favorite ways to consume lots of the healthy weed is to add it to my morning smoothie. Blueberrie, boysenberries and purslane, with green tea and flaxseed oil and chia seeds, provides an antioxidant rich, Omega-3 packed meal. (Add a bit of Greek-style yogurt for protein. Purslane complements yogurt quite well also.)
Perhaps one of the most unusual ways I enjoy purslane is on pizza. Tossed with bit of olive oil and laid atop any take 'n' bake pizza, purslane transforms the ordinary pizza pie into something gourmet.
Tonight's dinner was very simple: a purslane and pepperoni pizza. I enjoy meat on pizza, but there has to be some vegetable on it as well. I have found the fat in the cheese, the acid in the tomato sauce, and the crust's bread-like flavor complement a variety of vegetables quite well. Zucchini, spinach, and red peppers are some of my favorite toppings, along with eggplant, okra, and other atypical pizza veggies. But I also found a variety of leafy greens work well with pizza too, like arugula, bok choy, and my new favorite: purslane!
So next time you see a purslane patch growing in your yard, don't think "pest." Think "pizza!"
Check out Darrin Nordahl's other projects at  Island Press.