Did you know there could be secret succulents lurking in your lawn? Plaguing your parks? Soiling your sidewalks?! Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is a succulent weed that grows prolifically across the globe. It has a long history as a food plant, thanks to its tangy flavor, drought tolerance, and abundant nutrients.
Purslane's tang comes from malic acid, a by-product of its succulent lifestyle. When water is sparse and the weather is hot, purslane activates its succulent superpower to do some of its photosynthesis at night. Under the starry skies it toils away, storing carbon in the form of malic acid. The next day, it is all soured up and ready to go for a day of photosynthesis in the boiling heat.
To capture its peak sourness, wait for a drought, then pick your purslane in the early- to mid-morning when its stores of malic acid are highest.
Fortunately, you don't have to wait for a drought to enjoy its abundant nutrients. It has the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids of any plant—five times as much as spinach (Uddin et al.) Michael Pollan proclaimed it one of the two most nutritious plants on earth in his book In Defense of Food. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron (Uddin et al.)
Go grab some purslane and try out these pakoras!
This recipe comes from my dear friend Tracey Morton. She is a gourmet mushroom cultivator, mosaic artist, and phenomenal cook.
Purslane's tenderness is the perfect match for these crispy pakoras. They come together quickly and make for a crunchy wild foods snack. I have lightly adapted the recipe and added some other foraged variations below.
Use any of the suggestions below on their own or mix and match to make your own special blend.
Acorn flour pakoras: Swap ¼ cup of the chickpea flour for finely ground acorn flour. The acorn flour makes for a denser, chewier pakora. It's a nice way to use up acorn flour, but I wouldn't go out of your way to obtain some just for pakoras.
Lambsquarters pakoras: Replace the purslane with 1 cup of packed, roughly chopped lambsquarters leaves and tender stems, Chenopodium album.
I like to use a smaller volume of lambsquarters so that there is enough batter to fully coat the leaves.
Milkweed pakoras: Swap up to ½ cup of the purslane for immature milkweed silk, cut into roughly ½-inch pieces. Once cooked, the immature silk of milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, has a texture eerily similar to melted cheese.
No whole seeds: Use 1 teaspoon of cumin powder and 1 teaspoon of coriander powder in place of the cumin and coriander seeds. Omit the ajwain or mustard seeds.
Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Penguin Books, 2009.
Thayer, Samuel. Incredible Wild Edibles: 36 Plants That Can Change Your Life. Forager’s Harvest Press, 2017.
Uddin, Md. Kamal, et al. “Purslane Weed (Portulaca Oleracea): A Prospective Plant Source of Nutrition, Omega-3 Fatty Acid, and Antioxidant Attributes.” TheScientificWorld, vol. 2014, 2014, pp. 951019–6, https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/951019.
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