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This delicious purslane salad with pomegranate, fresh figs, toasted walnuts and baby quince celebrates the fresh flavours of the sunny Salento region of southern Puglia, Italy.
Featuring an abundance of foraged wild greens, the refreshing mix of textures, peppery sweetness and brilliant colours makes it a beautiful and nutritious summer salad!
What Exactly is Purslane?
You never know what you’ll discover in southern Puglia, Italy! On a recent trip to the Capo di Leuca region, I spent a morning foraging at the Celacanto Centre for Education and Citizen Activation in Marina Serra.
One of the directors, Phillipo Messina, introduced me to the centre’s garden I learned I’d been stomping on delicious edible greens for years without even realizing it.
Considered a weed by most North Americans, purslane is actually an edible succulent plant that’s a member of the portulaca family. It’s known by many different names around the world including:
- verdolagas in Mexico, Guatemala and throughout Latin America,
- brucacchia in Salento, Italy,
- porcacchia in Rome,
- ‘a purciddana in Sicily,
- Porcellana in other regions of Italy,
- coupie in Dominica,
- sea parsley in Aruba where it’s one of many yerbe di lama meaning “grass of the ocean”
- bakleh in Arabic,
- and purslane in many countries,
So if you happen across a plant known by one of the above names, you’re in luck! It’s a delicious edible green.
Fast-growing portulaca oleracea loves direct sunlight and thrives in poor soil. That means you can often find the low-lying plant growing wild in between the cracks of sidewalks, creeping over rocks and spreading its shallow roots in dry locations.
Although you can sometimes find fresh bunches of purslane in farmers markets, this fast-growing annual can also be cultivated from seed. So plant some in a pot on your patio or in your herb garden and enjoy it fresh any time.
One of the advantages of cultivating your own purslane is that commercial varieties such as Goldberg Golden Purslane from Johnny’s Seeds grow upright. That makes it much easier to harvest.
The leaves and stems of purslane are edible. Note, however that they are toxic to cats.
What does purslane taste like? It’s got a mild, citrusy flavour that works well in many dishes. The purslane I’ve tried in Aruba, Mexico and Italy has a slightly salt taste as it absorbs a bit of sea air from the ocean.
Try it in a green smoothie at Mauchi Smoothies in Savaneta, Aruba.
Although you can eat purslane cooked in stews or soups, sauteed in a stir-fry or raw in green smoothies, one of the best ways to enjoy purslane is in a fresh salad. That preserves all the wonderful crunch of the plant’s smooth, glossy leaves.
In terms of texture, purslane is a mucilaginous plant which means the inside of the plump leaves is slightly gelatinous almost like aloe. That provides a burst of flavour when you bite into it.
Nutritional Benefits of Purslane
Considered a superfood, purslane is packed with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E as well as heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. 100 grams of purslane leaves contain around 350 mg of α-linolenic acid!
Another benefit is that it also has antibacterial, detoxifying and soothing properties. This makes purslane valuable for strengthening the immune system.
Purslane is even sold as a health food supplement in powdered form. In traditional Chinese medicine it’s known as Ma Chi Xian and is valued for its cooling and detoxification effects.
Foraging for Brucacchia in Salento, Italy
This recipe for Wild Purslane Salad with Pomegranate, Fig, Walnut and Quince comes from the Celacanto Centre in the Capo di Leuca area of southern Puglia, Italy.
Here, the purslane (known as brucacchia) grows in wild abandon on the ground and in pots amidst wild chicory, dandelion, mustard greens and asparagus. The centre’s garden is a veritable feast of greens waiting to be eaten.
When foraging for purslane–or any other wild plant–you need to be sure that the greens you’re picking are not contaminated by pesticides, fertilizers or industrial contaminants.
At Celacanto, no pesticides are used. In fact, everything onsite is organic and locally sourced. Even the furniture is made sustainably from recycled, reclaimed and restored materials.
It’s also important to follow sustainable practices when harvesting wild plants and herbs. At Celacanto I learned that one of the most important responsible foraging techniques to leave the roots intact.
Try to pick only the tips of the plant and leave the majority of the visible above-ground portion of the plant untouched.
How to Store Purslane
- Purslane will keep well in the refrigerator for up to four days.
- Submerge the stems of purslane in a glass of water when storing and it will last even longer.
If you have a bounty of purslane, why not try this delicious recipe for Lebanese Bakleh Pockets featuring cooked purslane tucked inside flaky puff pastry!
How to Make Purslane Salad with Pomegranate, Fig, Walnut and Quince
Once you’ve harvested (or purchased) your fresh purslane you’re ready to begin assembling your salad.
1. Take four cups of purslane stems and leaves (without roots) and wash them throughly to remove any dust, grit or dirt.
2. Remove the seeds from one pomegranate separating the bitter, white membrane and rind that surrounds the arils (seeds). Try to keep the arils as intact as possible.
3. Toast 1/2 cup of shelled walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned. This should take between 3 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.
4. Cut five fresh figs in half.
5. Chop one fresh quince into small pieces. If you can’t find quince, then a fresh, ripe pear is a good substitute.
6. Whisk together five tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar, one tablespoon of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.
The key to making a great salad is using a top quality olive oil. At Celacanto they used extra virgin organic olive oil from the Olio Merico company in Miggiano, Salento.
7. Toss the purslane and remaining ingredients together with the dressing in a large salad bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve and enjoy!
What to Serve with Purslane Salad
- Purè di fave e Cicorie – Fava Bean Puree with Chicory
- Grilled Beef with Beer Marinade
- Light Panna Cotta with Mango
Suggested Wine Pairing: This summery salad pairs well with the delicate and fruity Caminante Negroamaro di Terra D’Otranto Rosé 2019. This vivid pink rosé is made from grapes harvested at vineyards near Ruffano, northwest of Marina Serra.
Purslane Salad with Pomegranate, Fig, Walnut and Quince
- large glass salad bowl
- small knife
- 4 cups purslane fresh
- 1 pomegranate
- 5 figs fresh
- 1/2 cup walnuts shelled
- 1 quince
- 5 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 1/8 tsp salt
- Take four cups of purslane stems and leaves (without roots) and wash them throughly to remove any dust, grit and dirt.
- Remove the seeds from one pomegranate separating the bitter, white membrane and rind that surrounds the arils (seeds). Try to keep the arils as intact as possible.
- Toast 1/2 cup of walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned. This should take between 3 to 5 minutes but watch carefully so they don't burn.
- Cut each of the fresh figs in half.
- Chop one fresh quince into small pieces. If you can't find quince, then ripe, fresh pear is a good substitute.
- Whisk together five tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar, one tablespoon of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.
- Toss all the purslane and remaining ingredients together with the dressing in a large glass salad bowl.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- The key to making a great salad is using a top quality olive oil. At Celacanto they used extra virgin organic olive oil from the Olio Merico company in Miggiano, Salento.
Sample This Dish at its Source in Salento, Puglia, Italy
Puglia (Apulia) Official Tourism Site: Get maps, tourism information and more at the official Puglia Tourism Website. There is also a tourist information booth (with English-speaking staff) at Brindisi International Airport so be sure to make a stop upon arrival.
Getting There: From Rome take a short connecting flight to the modern Brindisi International Airport (BDS) via Alitalia. Or travel by train in five hours from Rome’s Termini Station. It’s a 1.5 hour drive from Brindisi Airport to the Capo di Leuca area.
Celacanto: This hub for innovation and sustainable living offers classes, workshops, art lessons, cooking classes and farming experiences. It’s a valuable resource for creative people interested in “active citizenship.”
Stop by their Farmer’s Market, browse their shop or volunteer in exchange for free accommodation in the centre’s hostel.
Before you go, check out their wide range of community events on the Celacanto Facebook Page.
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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