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Local & Seasonal: Purslane Fattoush

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Purslane1
Photos: Maria Zizka

Purslane is an edible, low-growing succulent plant with thick, rosy stems. As soon as the summer sun warms the soil, purslane pops up from cracks in the sidewalk and vegetable patches. Gardeners will tell you that it is a vexing weed, but nutritionists champion both its stems and fleshy leaves, which contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other green plant. Chefs love the creeping plant, too. Purslane leaves are crunchy, tangy, and slightly peppery, like a juicier version of watercress.

You can often find purslane (Portulaca oleracea) for the inexpensive price of one dollar per bunch at farmers' markets. I also spotted it for sale at our local Mexican market, and was tempted to make the classic Central Mexican dish puerco con verdolagas, a pork and purslane stew. My friend, Arzu, who lives in Turkey, where purslane grows widely, recommended tossing the leaves with garlicky yogurt and eating them with meatballs. I liked her idea of combining the sweet tang of yogurt with the sour burst of purslane, so I made a creamy dressing and drizzled it over the traditional Lebanese salad called fattoush.

Much like the Italian bread salad panzanella, fattoush relies on stale, day-old bread. It celebrates summer's bounty of ripe tomatoes, refreshingly cool cucumbers, and citrusy purslane leaves. This adaptable mix of ingredients welcomes the addition of olives or the substitution of bell peppers for cucumbers, depending on your mood. Fattoush is the perfect thing when you don't feel like turning on the oven. Simply toast a few pieces of pita bread, chop your favorite vegetables, and toss everything together with a bright, unifying dressing. The plump purslane leaves won't wilt too much, which makes fattoush an ideal salad for a picnic. You might even discover a tangle of purslane growing in the grass next to your picnic blanket.

Purslane2

Purslane Fattoush
Serves 4 to 6
Traditional fattoush is seasoned with sumac, a lemony, crimson-colored spice. I didn't have any sumac, so I used lots of lemon zest instead. Use the ripest, juiciest vegetables that you can find, and feel free to add olives, feta cheese, or radishes, if you desire.

4 8-inch diameter pita breads
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup thinly sliced spring onions
½ pound tomatoes
4 cups (about ½ pound) purslane, thick stems removed
½ pound cucumbers, thinly sliced crosswise
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, torn into small pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut or tear the pita bread into bite-sized pieces. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat for a few minutes. Swirl in 3 tablespoons olive oil, and then add the pita to the skillet. Stirring occasionally, cook for about 5 minutes or until they are crisp and browned. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon salt over the pita and let cool.

Using a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic with ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir in the yogurt, white wine vinegar, several grinds of pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, sliced onions, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Slice the tomatoes into bite-sized wedges. Sprinkle them with ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the purslane, sliced cucumbers, mint, and yogurt dressing. Just before serving, add the tomatoes and toasted pita, tossing gently to combine. Taste for seasoning, and add another squeeze of lemon juice or a few more mint leaves, if you like.

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