Purslane Pesto

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My dad’s a very frugal man. Back when we were little, nothing grew in our little strip of city side-yard but zinnias and lilies—except for this one, vine-y weed. It had succulent green leaves & wiggly, moss-rose-looking pinky-red stems and positively flourished. Dad looked it up and told us it was called Portulaca (portulaca oleracea) a wild-growing edible found in North America as far back as 1430 AD, also known as purslane, verdolaga, pigweed, or—my personal favorite: little hogweed. Dad promptly stopped treating purslane as a weed, and started eating it all sorts of ways, simply because it was edible and it was free. The rest of us did not.

Fast forward 30 years. I’m at a high-end tasting dinner with a bunch of food writers at “The Traveling Chef” Christopher Mangless’ Three Three Five dining studio in Green Bay, WI. Somewhere about small plate 18 or so, there appears this very familiar green. It tastes lemon-tart, and the leaves are, in fact, succulent. Purslane! Planning to tell my dad “…you’ll never guess what I just ate at a fancy restaurant,” I did a little research first and, Wow!

Turns out this wild thing is fantastically good for you. Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable.  A half-cup raw has 300 to 400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid—that’s five times more than spinach! (A re-boot on why we need Omega-3’s?  According to Washington, D.C.’s Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Omega-3s are  “essential for normal growth and development and may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, other inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, and cancer.”)

Lets tally that up: Grows like a weed…tastes delicious… is incredibly good for you. Hmmm… Instead of weeding purslane, maybe you should harvest a few handfuls and try this pesto shared with me by Chef Travis Bensink of Heirloom Restaurant at the Chautauqua Institute, Chautauqua New York. It has a nice tart, grassy taste and the inclusion of walnuts instead of pine nuts boosts the alpha-linolenic acid content even more. Travis likes to serve it with fish (Arctic Char or halibut.) But it tastes good with just about anything. (….just ask my Dad.)

Makes enough for 6 to 8 servings

Purslane Pesto Ingredients

  • 1 lb purslane, cleaned and most of the stems removed (NOTE: leave a few tender pieces of stem in–they’re high in Vitamin C. Save the rest for snipping in to a truly Greek salad with tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, feta cheese and olive oil.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 3/4 cup good-quality parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 toasted walnuts, chopped

Instructions

  1. Make pesto: Combine all ingredients, except the olive oil in a food processor and pulse until incorporated. In a slow stream, add olive oil and continue to pulse.

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