A few years ago , I was introduced to the grow bag system of raising plants.This was encouraged by many a kitchen garden expert as the best means to use minimal water and save space.
Our grow bags contain those plants that I feel thrive happily on their own .So currently we have basil , pineapple,mint,thyme, rosemary,turmeric and cherry tomato plants.It’s also a lot easier to keep these weed free .
At one point ,a whole month went by without me paying attention to the wild foliage that had sprung around these plants. What did catch my attention later was one particular ‘weed’ that had spread and taken a generous amount of space at the base of the grow bag and was beginning to spill over the rim.The pink fleshy stem like creeper with it’s small spongy green leaves looked so pretty that I just sat and admired it ,sad at the thought of having to yank it out.
On closer examination,the leaves looked similar to our paruppu keerai but having never seen it’s growth pattern,I was unsure if this particular plant was edible. My only option was to take a picture and show it around to as many people as possible who are familiar with wild local ingredients. The first person I asked was a farmer and he called it ‘kattu keerai’ (forest greens) and said that they had been eating it for years.
Quite delighted at this discovery ,we proceeded to include this foraged green plant on a regular basis whenever available. It was then that I discovered that it’s existence wasn’t confined to the grow bags,it was just harder to locate on the ground amidst the actual weeds.
It ‘s easy to cook and tastes delicious, a little tangy.It does not leave any sort of bitter after taste that one associates with certain varieties of spinach. One quiet afternoon,I decided to google ‘kattu keerai’ and among the names that popped up was purslane. The image also closely resembled the plant that we found happily proliferating everywhere.The health benefits listed left me incredulous,to say the least!
Unable to contain my excitement,I shared the pictures with my many foodie friends.The discussion on purslane also inspired a friend to cook a fantastic meal with a mix of international flavours but with conscious focus on local produce. A cousin living in Palani also spoke about her purslane discovery and how it is now an important part of her diet.
It’s a weed that grows wildly in India. It’s also known as luni-bhaji or kulfa in other parts of the country. While it’s relegated here to a common man’s humble meal, it is acclaimed as a gourmet ingredient in other parts of the world. Purslane red gruner seeds are available online and are in demand for it’s nutritive properties.
Michael Pollan whose quote “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” is a popular mantra for food consciousness makes a mention of this weed. In his manifesto Defense of food he has named purslane as one of the two most nutritious foods on the planet.
At home we follow a quick ,easy recipe for purslane. After allowing it to gently steam for a few minutes,the leaves and stems are cooled and beaten to a smooth consistency along with ginger, green chillies, salt and at times a bit of garlic. This puree can be made to whatever consistency required by adding water. It makes a great gravy base for paneer or corn or even egg. A squeeze of lime before serving just brings it all together. Truth be told ,I’m much happier using this drought resistant succulent than any other greens that are cultivated. You should try it ! Look around for the Purslane hiding in your garden and celebrate it’s existence !
Identify Purslane by it’s pink edged leaves which grow in graduating sizes along the stem.They are more round in appearance.
It grows close to the ground and the stems fan out symmetrically on either side
Purslane is a rich source of Vitamin A (powerful antioxidant ,essential for vision,healthy mucosa and skin) and Vitamin C
Purslane also contains some B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and carotenoids, as well as dietary minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and manganese.
It has more omega 3 fatty acids than any other green leafy vegetable
It’s high in dietary fibre and low in calories.
Wash thoroughly before us,as it grows close to the ground
It can be added to soups, juices, smoothies, pestos,chutneys and many other ways.