Monday, July 30, 2018

Cold tossed purslane Sichuan style

Purslane is one of those vegetables that tries to disguise itself as a weed. Most times, this is a successful ruse.

I often see it growing in people’s gardens, in public parks, and in fields that offer more obvious variations on produce, for it generally manages to duck under the radar of all but the most finicky gardeners.

Even they, though, can sometimes beguiled by the simple beauty of this succulent, for it is relatively unassuming and offers up jadelike leaves, reddish stems, and tiny yellow flowers in an attempt to curry favor.

I definitely succumbed to its charm long ago, both in my yard and in my kitchen. And now I can’t wait for summer, when the warm weather causes it to sprout all over the place. Like now…

In this recipe, the stems and leaves are quickly blanched and then shocked in ice water, which mellows the natural tartness of purslane and transforms it into a delicious regular on my summer tables.
Eat your weeds

The leaves and stems remain slightly crunchy when prepared this way, and they are then ready to be robed with whatever dressing you’d like. My favorite is something with a good helping of chile oil and goop, plus crushed toasted peanuts to make the texture even more interesting. I guess you can tell by now that in my book, peanuts are welcome in just about anything I make.

Farmers’ markets sometimes offer purslane, as do some ethnic and local greengrocers. You can also hunt it down in walks around your neighborhood. If you do find it, ask if you can weed their yard a bit, and then scurry home while they are still none the wiser.

One caveat: prepare purslane as soon as you can, for the leaves mush up easily. When that happens, prepping this lovely weed turns into a royal pain.

And so, this is what I do: I soak the purslane in a big bowl of ice water for just a little while to perk it up. Then I use my fingernails to trim it. Like asparagus, if you can’t stick your nail into the stem, it’s too tough to eat.

Pretty in its own right
Just break the stems into whatever lengths you like, and drain. They can keep for a couple of hours if wrapped in a paper towel and refrigerated, but they don’t improve much with the wait. So plan ahead, if you can.

The good news, though, is that if the purslane is super fresh, this dish comes together in a snap.

Oh, by the way, purslane is incredibly nutritious. In its raw state it has more omega-3 than any other greens. But even so, I recommend that you blanch it, for raw purslane is also high in oxilates, which is what leads to kidney stones. Besides, for my money purslane is much tastier after it has had a quick bath.

Today’s dressing is more of a suggestion than a recipe. Use it as a template, and then add or subtract whatever you like.

Purslane appetizer Sichuan style
Chuānshì măchĭxiàn 川式馬齒莧
A simple, spicy dressing
Serves 3 or 4

8 ounces | 225 g fresh purslane
Boiling water
Ice water and ice cubes

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chile oil
1 tablespoon of the goop from chile oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 30 g chopped toasted peanuts

1. Rinse the purslane and gently shake dry. Use your fingernails to nip off the stem ends, and then break the stems into whatever lengths you like. Discard any dark or mushy bits.
Perking up the purslane

2. Bring 1 quart | 1 liter water to a full boil. Have a bowl filled with 1 quart | 1 liter ice water and a good handful of ice cubes ready.

3. Drop the purslane into the boiling water and cook for no more than 15 seconds, or until the leaves turn a bright green. Immediately drain the purslane, rinse it with cool water, and then plunge it into the ice bath. Swish it around to cool the purslane down quickly. Drain thoroughly.

4. To make the dressing, mix together the minced garlic, chile oil, goop, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you wish.

5. Just before serving (and not before), toss the purslane with the dressing. Mound the purslane on a serving dish and sprinkle the peanuts around it. Serve cold.

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