Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Put purslane back on the plate

The lettuce at Sunshine Farm has gone by for the season, but that doesn't mean I go without greens when we arrive for an early autumn visit. Instead I enjoy the taste, texture and amazing nutritional profile of purslane. Too often overlooked as a common weed, purslane is a superfood packed with omega-3s and antioxidants.

This peppery plant has a rich culinary history in countries such as Greece, China, Mexico and India, its original home. Here in America, purslane was standard fare in Colonial kitchen gardens before it declined into obscurity.

Due to its wild pluckiness, purslane isn't something my parents need to cultivate in their organic gardens. Instead, the low-growing succulent reseeds itself between the rows. In the photo above, you can see some of it growing in my dad's garden, with the strawberry patch, the Honeymoon Cottage and the Middle Cottage in the background.

Purslane is so tenacious, it even grows between the sidewalk bricks in downtown Portland.

During our most recent time at the farm, I paired fresh purslane with my long-time, go-to veggie burgers. It's an easy to prepare meal that goes well with a range of toppings, including superfoods masquerading as weeds. Pick some, you'll see.

Chick-n-Rice Burgers

16 oz. cooked chickpeas
3 cups cooked brown rice
12 0z. tomato paste
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried dill
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. xanthan gum
salt & pepper to taste

In a large bowl, mash chickpeas with a potato ricer. Add rice, tomato paste, onions and spices. Blend together with a wooden spoon. Form mixture into patties and cook on an oiled skillet over medium heat. Cook until brown on both sides. Serve with burger toppings - especially purslane!. Makes 10 burgers.

Make Ahead: The burgers hold together on the grill much better after being refrigerated, so if you have the time this is the way to go. Form a handful of the mixture into a patty and place it on top of a square of waxed paper inside a food storage container. Place a piece of waxed paper on top and then add another burger and another piece of paper. Repeat until mixture is gone.

Vegetable Hash: If you're not in the mood for burgers, you can saute the burger mixture in a skillet like you would a hash. Serve it browned and crispy as a breakfast dish or rolled inside a warm tortilla with your favorite Tex-Mex toppings.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Farmers' market on a stick

With the recent gorgeous weather, Adam and I have been spending quality time with our Weber grill. The compact unit is ideal for small city lots and works well with hardwood charcoal. Adam gets the fire going by lighting newspaper drizzled with vegetable oil. Once the wood begins to burn, the curling smoke lacks the acrid aroma of petroleum-laced briquettes, and instead matches the tantalizing smell of the ever-growing legion of Portland restaurant wood grills.

When the coals glow red hot, I bring down the food.

One of my favorite ways to cook on the grill is with skewers. Pretty much any plant can be pierced with a stick and roasted over flames. Mushrooms, tempeh and fried tofu all work well too. A set of metal skewers makes a good investment, and wooden skewers work in a pinch, but it's a good idea to soak them in water before you add the vegetables.

At this time of year, I pick up fingerling potatoes, red peppers, onions and baby squash at the Portland Farmers' Market. I head home dreaming about how they'll taste caramelized and infused with smoke. To me it's the sweet flavor of Maine's waning summer days, and a taste I'll recall fondly when the frozen days of February arrive.

Late Summer Farmers' Market Skewers

15 fingerling potatoes
2 red peppers
6-8 mixed baby squash
2 red onions
Extra virgin olive oil
Maine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dried basil

Cut each to roughly the same size and place in a bowl (setting aside the onions so they don't fall apart). Coat the vegetables with olive oil and then toss with salt, pepper and basil. Drizzle olive oil over the onions. Using a metal skewer (or a wooden one first soaked in water) add the vegetables one at a time. Add to the grill and cook 15-20 minutes. Turn after 10 minutes. Test the potatoes with a fork to be sure they're cooked through. Serve hot.