Purslane for Breakfast

DSC_0084a“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast? said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.

What a smart bear. There have been mornings, especially the dark, cold, 5 am ones where the best place in the whole wide world is my bed and the tunnel of warm blankets I am burrowed under. And were it not save for the allure of something lip-smacking and delicious as my reward for bravely baring back those sheets, I’d have given up on dark, cold, 5 am mornings altogether. It is an honest statement to say that, over the years, breakfast has gotten me out of bed. For a while, there was homemade granola with almond milk, sour dough open sandwiches, overnight oats flecked with chia seeds and smashed fruit, and savory miso oatmeal porridge. Lately though, the most exciting flavors of the morning have been sour.

I’d like to introduce you to my latest breakfast crush. It’s green, leafy and looks like it should be showcased in a hipster plant terrarium. Purslane is a lemony and tart herb, but even at my favorite local grocery store, sighting it is rare. Much like a narwhal or the G train, it’s a pretty big deal when you can prove it exists. So when I found some suddenly sitting without much fanfare in a box at the back of the produce section, I quickly brought a bunch home. I’m aware that this may be the first time you’re hearing about purslane because it isn’t a common staple in most grocery stores, but truth be told, it’s common enough. You’ve probably passed some sprouting in the pavement cracks in the sidewalk or stepped on some in your local park.

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With their round, plump leaves, this garden variety weed is actually an edible succulent. In Chinese, it goes by ma chi xian, which translates to “horse-tooth amaranth”, evoking (in my head) the picture of Mr. Ed sporting a horsey grin and jade-colored grills. Ha. Officially, its Latin name is Portulaca oleracea, but you might also know it as pigweed, moss rose, pursley (I like that) and verdolaga, which is what it’s labeled at my grocery store.

Behold this humble pigweed. Just like the dandelion, purslane is more than what meets the eye. Packed with the same heart healthy omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon, purslane makes for a happy alternative when you’re not in a fishy mood. It’s also high in Vitamin A, C and dense in dietary fiber. In the Chinese medicine materia medica, purslane is recognized for its energetic properties of being sour, cold, and slippery. Its slipperiness comes from the fact that it’s full of mucilage, just like mountain yam, chia seeds, and okra. Mucilage (which is exactly what it sounds like) is a thick, gooey substance that acts as a natural laxative because it can slide through the intestinal tract and pick up accumulated waste along the way. So, it’s no wonder that Chinese texts say that purslane can affect and treat the large intestine. It’s also a natural balm for the liver.

In Chinese medicine, it is said that sour flavored foods go first to treat the liver and acts as a calming agent for liver activity. The sourness in purslane can be attributed to its oxalic acid content, an acid commonly found in foods high in antioxidants, like spinach, beets, and dandelion greens. In small amounts, oxalic acid doesn’t pose a problem, but because it’s associated with the formation of kidney stones, you’ll want to stay away from eating an excessive amount (we’re talking weeks of eating pounds upon pounds of this stuff) or if you’re already prone to kidney stones. Together, the effect of purslane being sour, cold and slippery makes it an especially wonderful herb to cool heat toxins in the blood (think painful pimples or swellings on the skin all the way to urinary tract infections and hemorrhoids).

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As powerful as it is as a medicine, purslane also makes for a lip-smackingly good meal. Pairing it with lemon juice brings out this herb’s tart, lemony edge and I’m all for showcasing what a zinger of an herb it can be. And because it’s also inherently a little salty and peppery, I found that purslane has a natural best friend in the mild, creamy, semi-nutty flavor of the new potato. The new potato is like a spring time version of a regular potato. Thin-skinned and diminutive, they’re capable of being both tooth-satisfyingly crispy on the outside and delicately creamy at the center.

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I fried these babies up. Into our trustworthy cast iron skillet went a pound of new potatoes that were halved for a greater surface area of crunch.

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After employing the herby husband’s cooking technique of letting whatever is cooking sit undisturbed (“just casually walk away”, he says) as the stovetop does its magic, these little beauties were toasted a beautiful golden brown after 5-7 minutes. When one side is golden, flip them over and allow the other size to brown.

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I made a quick vinaigrette with lemon juice, olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.

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And with the always impressive-looking addition of a poached egg (instructions below) my little breakfast salad quickly came together. And it was a revelation…

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Hot, crispy and fried potatoes paired with the cool, slippery cucumber-like crunch of purslane. Sweet and creamy paired with the lemony and the peppery. And all of it gets luxuriously coated in a little flood of sunny egg yolk. This was a dish I happily went back to for seconds.

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It looks like sunshine in a bowl, no? Just make sure to get every component into each bite and you’ll already be winning at your day.

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LEMONY PURSLANE & CRISPY POTATOES WITH A POACHED EGG

Makes 2 hearty servings

Ingredients
1 bunch purslane
1 pound small new potatoes, rinsed
2 eggs, refrigerated and still cold
2 teaspoons of white distilled vinegar
1 lemon, squeezed
4 tablespoons olive oil + 2 tablespoons (for frying)
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
pinch of salt and pepper

  1. Rinse and shake off the purslane, plucking off any old leaves. Separate the leaves from the stems and chop up the stems, if using. Place in a bowl.
  2. Scrub and rinse off the potatoes. There’s no need to peel off the skin. Chop into halves.
  3. Heat a cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium high heat and add olive oil (about 2 tablespoons). Arrange the potatoes so they are cut side down and allow them to cook undisturbed for 8-10 minutes until a golden brown crust forms on the bottom. Flip the potatoes and cook for another 5-7 minutes until golden on all sides.
  4. As the potatoes fry, prepare the dressing. Combine the 4 tablespoons of olive oil with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add the dried chili flakes, salt and pepper.
  5. Toss the lemony dressing into the bowl of purslane leaves and stems. Add in the crisp potatoes and coat with dressing.
  6. Time to poach the eggs. Add water to a sauce pan until it comes 1 inch up the side. Add vinegar and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  7. Crack each egg into a separate bowl or ramekin. When the water begins to gently simmer (not boil), use the handle of a spatula or spoon to swirl the water in one direction. As the water spins, slide in the eggs one at a time. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and allow the eggs to poach. After 5 minutes, use a slotted spoon to lift the eggs out and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain off the excess water.
  8. Spoon out the purslane and potatoes into smaller bowls. Gently add a poached egg to each bowl. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
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