via Flickr/Bob Richmond
Each month, Adam Erace picks a crop that’s in season locally right this very minute and asks some of the city’s best chefs how they’re preparing it.
Being “in the weeds” is the last thing you want as a chef — except in late summer, when the phrase takes on an alternate meaning as purslane starts creeping into Philly kitchens.
This edible invasive, a network of thick reddish stems sprouting pretty teardrop-shaped green leaves, spreads across soil like syrup over pancakes, but its presence can be beneficial to other plants. Above ground, purslane provides cover that helps dirt maintain moisture. Below, its unstoppable roots work like jackhammers, channeling tunnels through hard-packed dirt. Unchecked, the weed thrives, which is why people in many countries have been eating it for millennia.
“[Purslane] is used widely in German cooking, mostly in soups and salads,” says Jeremy Nolen of Brauhaus Schmitz. “Soups are typically a puree and salads are generally used raw with many other ingredients such as tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt dressings, or simple herb vinaigrettes.” Recent specials at Brauhaus saw portulak (that’s purslane in German) tossed with crispy potatoes, lemon, smoked garlic, parsley and cherry tomatoes — a side to lager-braised lamb belly.
“I think it has become trendy for the same reasons that foraging has become so popular,” Nolen says. “There is so much food that has become forgotten or that has yet to be discovered in the wild. I think the fact that a weed like purslane actually has a unique texture and a bright lemony taste is what attracts people to it.”
“The best time to get purslane is when it rained the previous night,” says Leo Forneas, forager-chef of the Twisted Tail. “The rain makes for brighter leaves.” The average farmer, he says, “will give it to you for free, because people who go to his farm don’t know what it is so they don’t pick it.”
Ideas in Food duo Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot echo the thrifty pleasures of purslane: “It’s a great succulent [with] a bit of bitterness, and pretty much free.” On their blog, they’ve leaned on the weed as an accessory for everything from crab-and-cauliflower pudding to tomato salad with bacon ice cream. A humble weed’s never had it so good.
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