Early in June, my garden was overrun with weeds. I found them struggling beneath the squash, sneaking up between the tomatoes, and towering above the dainty green hair of a row of unsuspecting carrots. I battled them for weeks, pulling here and there until finally the earth was bald of all but its rightful occupants.
But like so many well-intended wars, it turned out there were a few innocents strewn across the field at arms' end. The very next week, I headed to the farmers market, only to discover that one of my weeds was a dining table gem.
Purslane, as the common succulent plant is called, is found all over backyards, fields, and untended gardens on the Cape. Its proponents use it in casseroles and dips as a substitute for spinach, while others eat it fresh in a mix with lettuces and kale and other summer greens. I'd had its seaside cousin, orach, or sea purslane, baked into a summer spanakopita as a child, though I never made the connection until the other day.
The leaves, with their slightly salty and sour taste, are unknown to most Americans despite their popularity in Europe and Asia. There, the plant is cultivated for use in stir-fries and soups, prized for its omega-3 fatty acids and dietary minerals. In Greece, it is used in folk medicine as a remedy for constipation and urinary inflammation, while Pliny is said to have touted the plant as a protector from evil, and Indians as a cure for liver disease.
Beyond its rumored health benefits, the crunchy leaves boast an excellent flavor. Several spicy, lemony bunches from the farmers' market have been quickly devoured at my house since discovering the plant. Just this week, however, I picked up a new bunch and decided to experiment with something new. Potato salad, I'd learned, was a popular Ikranian destination for the leaves, and so I set about chopping.
A half hour and a pile of dishes later, I found myself with a delicious room temperature summer salad. Simultaneously filling and light, it proved the perfect addition to a beach towel, a good book, and an afternoon on the dunes.
PURSLANE POTATO SALAD
In a medium pot, boil 5 cups chopped potatoes until tender. Drain and set aside to cool. In a bowl, mix 1 cucumber chopped into half moon slivers, 1 cup purslane leaves and buds (flowers and stalks are edible as well, if you choose), and 1 cup chopped scallions with greens. Add potatoes and mix well.
In a small, wide bowl, whisk 1 egg yolk until smooth. Drip in, whisking constantly, 1 cup olive oil, making sure to add slowly enough to keep mixture opaque. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1-2 finely chopped Serrano peppers. Mix well. Spoon over potato and vegetable mixture (there may be some spicy mayo leftover; it will keep in the fridge for at least a week, if not longer), adding several tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar and fresh ground pepper and salt to taste. Toss well and serve at room temperature.