Travel takes you to some amazing places engaging all the senses; eyes, smell, touch, sound and taste. As I reflect now on so many of the many memorable journeys I have been on, since I was a young child, they have been profoundly influenced by the food of the people and places where I first discovered them – I don’t know why, but they seem to be etched on my brain (I wish I could say the same for all the classes I have sat through where nothing has gone in!)
I can vividly remember the experience of walking into my first delicatessen (this was on a campsite on the Costa Brava in Spain and I was about 10) and being overcome by the exciting and nurturing smell of FOOD – garlic, salmi, cheese, bread, olive oil, sausage and golden, ripe honeydew melons. Somehow, I didn’t remember the shops in Britain smelling of food or being as tempting as this one and besides, most of the things for sale in this shop were totally new to me. And then bit, by bit, you want to find out what all these foods are, where they come from and what they taste like – well most of them – I baulk at tripe done any way!
So this is the PURSLANE journey that started five years ago on the Anatolian coast of Turkey. My husband and I had hopped about on the Greek Islands close to the Turkish coast – Patmos, Kos, Rhodes and Symi, with the Turkish coast visible and tempting from all of them. We had picked out, as our first stop in Turkey, a small boutique hotel in a little bay close to Fethiye where we planned to stay for 3 days. It looked marvelous on the net, but the reality was nothing like the photos – in fact, it was run down and positively creepy and I don’t do creepy. Michael and I looked at each other and then made a hasty retreat through reception, with a bemused, but somehow resigned looking owner and dragged our bags back out onto the road again to catch the mini-bus back to the port (public transport is marvelous in Turkey – thank goodness!). What we were going to do we had no idea, and it was getting late – fortunately this story has a happy ending.
As we walked along the very picturesque harbour front of Fethiye we noticed a sign outside a little booth advertising a five day trip down the coast on a traditional Turkish wooden yacht – they had a double berth vacancy and it was leaving in the morning and yes, we could sleep on it that night and no, it wasn’t going to cost us an arm and a leg.
So that’s how I first met ‘Jimmy’, the Turkish cook on the boat, and purslane – he, and two other deckhands were preparing a huge bunch of succulent looking green stuff as we were introduced and stowed our bags into the very comfortable forward cabin. I had no idea what it was, and they only knew the Turkish word for it, which I didn’t understand (in fact, they came up with about three names depending on what their family called it – a very familiar story with wild foods)
Purslane Portulaca oleraceae – this is a wonder food and being used as a substitute for the benefits of oily fish. What does Purslane contain?
Omega-3 fatty acids: Purslane contains high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid generally found in vegetables, as well as small amounts of EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids more commonly found in fish. This essential fatty acid plays a key role in maintaining heart health; it can lower cholesterol, regulate blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids also enrich brain health and can be useful in preventing and treating depression.
Antioxidants: Purslane is high in vitamins A, C and E, which are known for their antioxidant powers. This edible weed also contains two betalain alkaloid pigments, beta-cyanins and beta-xanthins, which act as antioxidants.
Vitamins and minerals: Purslane is low in calories and fat, but this weed does contain high amounts of dietary minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and manganese.
Substitue purslane for other leafy green vegetables in your cooking. Use it to garnish sandwiches, add it to soups and stews, and incorporate it into your salads. If you’re pregnant, avoid purslane as it can make the uterine muscles contract. Purslane has a slightly pepper flavor and can be tart at times.
So how did Jimmy serve it? Just the leaves, stripped from the stems, with some salt. yoghurt and garlic as an accompaniment to this barbecued chicken.
Purslane and Walnut Salad – from the Greek Island of Kythera