It’s true: one man’s weed can be another woman’s dinner. In this case, while waiting for the next fall crop to be seeded, the garden bed formerly occupied by potatoes has been covered by purslane, a wild herb known and eaten in Central Mexico as verdolagas. They have a slightly tangy green taste that is fresh and different. Before I was able to find them occasionally at Fiesta -or growing wild in my garden- I always asked my mom to make them whenever I traveled back home.
Now, I could be lazy and just turn the whole bed over giving the purslane back to the earth. After all, it is kind of a pain to clean, as the leaves must be separated from the stems keeping only the most tender tips. But, darn, they are tasty! So what’s a little work in the sink in exchange for a childhood favorite that’s growing for free in my back yard? If you are not lucky to have this “weed” in your garden, you can sometimes find it at Boggy Creek Farm and at Fiesta and other Mexican groceries. This is how I learned to prepare them from my mom.
Verdolagas are a low-growing creeper that is close to the ground, so they need to be washed well. I usually like to fill the sink with cold water and let my greens “swim” in there for a few minutes. This helps remove all dirt and grit, plus critters that may be hiding in there. Drain in a colander and discard the bigger, tough stems.
Blanch the verdolagas in boiling water for just a few minutes. The leaves are fleshy and slightly succulent, so they will release a bit of “slime” during the blanching. Drain in a colander and set aside.
Prepare a tomatillo sauce: cook a pound of tomatillos and two or three chiles serranos in enough water to cover until they are soft and change color. Blend with half of a white onion, two cloves of garlic, and salt to taste, using a cup or so of the cooking liquid. In a large casserole, brown the meat of your choice. Traditionally verdolagas are cooked with pork. Spare ribs or country-style ribs are great, but you can also use stewing pork. I had chicken legs on hand, so that’s what I used. Once the meat is browned, add the sauce and simmer until the meat is thoroughly cooked. Add the verdolagas and cook for about five more minutes until heated throughout and they have softened. It should look like a saucy stew. Serve in bowls with plenty of hot corn tortillas.
Total time from garden to plate: about an hour. Total cost of a meal for two: $3 Transported-back-home factor: High
My mom also makes them in a salad she calls Mexican tabbouleh. She takes only the fresh leaves and combines them with minced red onion, tomatoes, and parsley, then seasons with fresh lime juice and olive oil, ground chile piquin, a pinch of ground cumin, and salt to taste. This is a killer side dish for anything from the grill, especially fish. Summery and fresh.
Go check your garden and see if you have these tasty greens growing in your beds. After all, they need to be removed to start planting the next fall crops!