This week I was going to write something passionate on the subject of Moroccan tagines, but the temperature in Western Washington hit 100 degrees, so cold soup it is again.
Now… I typically shun recipes that arbitrarily require an exotic ingredient that is hard to find, unless of course I happen to find it. Last week I was at the farmers market and there they were: big bunches of fresh purslane. They looked so good I violated my creed of not paying for weeds and bought a bunch. Of course I have never cooked anything with purslane before, but that’s what cookery is all about – finding something new and seeing what you can do with it. Banzai!
Purslane is a species of portulaca, which is a hardy succulent that grows on sand dunes, especially around the coasts of Australia where I grew up. Of course it never occurred to me as a child that it was something I should put in my mouth, until on a desert camping trip one of the more wild-foody parents insisted that portulaca was ‘bush spinach’ (not a strong selling point for kids) and that we should all eat it boiled for dinner. Surprisingly, it was juicy, salty, and tasty, and since then whenever I have run across portulaca growing wild I have indeed put it in my mouth. It also grows wild throughout North America and much of Europe and Asia.
Purslane has a refreshing salty, lemony bite, and its mucilaginous qualities make it act as a thickener like gelatin. You can eat every part: leaf, bud, stalk. I found myself just breaking off bits and snacking on it as I went.
Gazpacho is a classic cold Spanish soup. I’ve been fascinated with gazpacho ever since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a film by Pedro Almodóvar in which a batch of drugged gazpacho plays a pivotal role. Then there was the whole Rimmer-gazpacho debacle on Red Dwarf. What other cold soup can claim such media distinction?
1 ½ cups tomato juice
1 beefsteak tomato
1 cucumber, peeled
1 big clove of garlic (normally I take it as read that recipes calling for a single clove of garlic were written by the faint of heart, but in this case, because the soup is raw, one clove is just about right)
Juice of one lime
Fresh oregano and lemon basil (I just happened to have them on hand, but other fresh herbs will work)
3 Tb white wine vinegar
2 Tb olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (I used 6-color pepper from a spice importer, which added a nice firey kick)
I bunch of purslane from your local farmer’s market in July, or picked from your back garden.
The recipe couldn’t be simpler. Liquify all the ingredients in a blender, tasting as you go and adjusting the seasonings. I found myself adding the purslane last, since it was the dominant theme and I wanted to be sure I got that lemony kick. I’m not sure how much I used in the end, but it was about half of a big bunch and was responsible for giving the soup its green-brown color (tomato-based gazpacho is normally red, of course). When the soup is right, let it sit in your fridge for a day to give the flavours a chance to blend.
And of course, even if you never come across a bunch of purslane in your life, this gazpacho is good without it.