I have just returned from being away over Christmas and New Year and am pleased to find that purslane plants have sprouted in my various pots on my balcony. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in Australia. It grows in many parts of the world including southern Italy and is very much appreciated in various cuisines especially in The Middle East, Greece, Crete and Mexico.
I rescued a purslane plant from the roadside last summer and planted it in a pot; it soon grew from a single taproot and formed a large, thick mat of stems and leaves. Throughout hat summer I collected the small, fleshy leaves and the most tender parts of the stem for various salads and I also sprinkled leaves on top of cold soups – this added flavor, texture and colour.
The raw leaves are succulent and crisp and have a tart and lemony flavor. Taking notice from some of the Greek traditional recipes I liked them mixed with ingredients such as tomatoes, basil and feta. Recipes are meant to be broken and of course I added my own touches and various ingredients. I also like mixed green leaf salads. Below rocket, purslane, fresh mint leaves, pine nuts, extra olive oil and lemon juice.
Towards the end of summer the plant had grown far too large and woody and I pulled it out. It is a seasonal plant and by then the mature plant had obviously scattered its small black seeds in my other pots.
I think that if I had a garden I would find Purslane very invasive, hence appropriately called a weed in this part of the world that does not have a long continuous history of foraging. The culture of foraging in Australia has been largely disregarded over the past 200 years. For tens of thousands of years and before European settlers the Aboriginal people foraged native flora and there is also historical evidence pioneers and explorers ate wild greens.
Purslane can also be cooked on its own or added to other greens;I rather like the mucilaginous gel-like consistency it adds to food (like Okra) but many people do not.
This climbing plant above is growing in one of my friend’s back garden in North Adelaide. (The potted plants below are his too.). The plant is Basella rubra, commonly known as Malabar spinach, Vine spinach or Ceylon spinach. This creeping vine is the variety of Basella with purplish-stems and deep-green leaves with pink veins.
Basella is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable native to south Asia and eaten widely in Asian countries where it is known by a variety of local names, for example and to name a few, it is mostly known as saan choy in China, mong toi in Vietnam, pui saag in parts of India, remayong in Malaysia and alugbati in the Philippines.
This photo above is Basella alba – unlike my friend’s plant in Adelaide the stems are green and the plant will have a small white (alba) flower rather than crimson (rubra). I bought this bunch with its deep-green, oval to heart-shaped leaves a from the stall where I usually buy my Asian greens at the Queen Victoria Market
Like spinach Basella alba and Basella rubra it is a very versatile vegetable. The young leaves can be eaten raw and the larger leaves are cooked and depending on the regional cuisines it can be added to soups, in stir fries, curries etc. Like purslane the leaves are fleshy and thick, they remain crisp and taste of citrus when raw and when cooked the leaves soften and taste slightly mucilaginous. Basella doesn’t wilt as much as spinach.
Basella leaves remind me very much of Warrigal Greens. (Tetragonia tetragonioides ) is a leafy groundcover also known as Botany Bay spinach, Cook’s cabbage, kōkihi (in Māori), New Zealand spinach,. Although I have cooked this green many times before I do not have any photos.
I cooked the leaves of the Basella alba and sautéed them in extra virgin olive oil with garlic. On this occasion, I wanted a conventional green vegetable side dish to accompany a main of fish. If however, I had wanted to cook them in a Chinese way, I may also add spring onions, fresh ginger, chili, sesame oil, oyster or soy sauce. Maybe for a Japanese recipe I would add mirin or miso. Although I am typecasting some ingredients you will understand what I mean.
And would I have fed these vegetables to my mother? No way…. but maybe if I had used some typical way of cooking Italian greens she may begin to appreciate them.
Here are some conventional ways of cooking greens the Italian way:
Bring a small amount of lightly salted water to boiling Add the greens. Cover the pan and cook until tender or to your liking.
Optional: Cook the greens using only the water still clinging to leaves; cover, and cook until wilted, stirring halfway through.
Drain the greens well in a colander.
Dress with some extra virgin olive oil, adjust the seasoning if necessary (add pepper is optional) and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Heat some olive oil, add the garlic, (chillies and the anchovies are optional).
Add the vegetables sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.
Add white wine (if liquid is needed), cover and cook till softened. (Some cooks pre-cook the greens and then sauté them – this may not be necessary).
Optional: chillies to taste, and /or a few anchovies can be added at the same time as the garlic.
With pine nuts and currants
Soak some currants in a little warm water to plump them (about 10 mins). Drain before using. In a small pan toast pine nuts by tossing them around until light golden. They burn easily, do this quickly. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil, add some garlic, add greens and sauté until wilted. If necessary, drain off any liquid.
Return the greens to the pan. Add currants and pine nuts and sauté a few minutes more.
Optional: add cinnamon or nutmeg and/ or grated lemon peel.
Cook in butter instead of oil.