Friday, July 30, 2010

Chilled Zucchini Soup with Purslane

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Another great gift from my friend, a huge bag of fresh purslane. Most people have never heard of purslane, but they have probably seen it, it grows like a weed.

Once I was training on the football field with SC and I said "hey! look, you have purslane here!" I grabbed it popped it in my mouth and chewed, he was stunned.

He was more astonished not because I ate the weed from the ground, but because of what he has seen all the football players do out on that field ....he didn't think it was a very smart thing to do.

Condemned by some as an “unsightly, pervasive weed,” purslane is also a free backyard source of protein, vitamin E, vitamin C, and the best source of Omega 3 fatty acids of any leafy plant. There’s no reason to spend money on fish oil supplements if you have this tasty food source growing in your backyard or vegetable garden.

Whether you eat it raw in salads, stir-fried, or added to soups and sauces, purslane is a delicious addition to many recipes. It’s easy to grow, tastes great, and – best of all to anyone struggling with rising food prices – it’s free.

Also called Summer Purslane - purslane usually grows spread out flat on the ground. It can be found growing in almost any unshaded area, including flower beds, corn fields, and waste places. Purslane can be found growing in cold climate areas (e.g., Canada) as well as warm areas (e.g., the Caribbean).

It has been used in salads and as a medicinal plant (for people) for hundreds of years. Called Verdolaga in spanish, it is a vegetable green used in many Latin American countries. It is also popular as a salad green in France and other European countries. It is similar in taste and consistency to watercress. It can be eaten fresh or cooked and has no bitter taste at all. Since it has a mucilaginous quality it is great for soups and stews.

It has rosettes of fleshy, paddle-shaped leaves, each with a small (1/4” wide) yellow flower. It is grows low to the ground in large circular mats up to 1.2m across and it is succulent with short leaves less than an inch long scattered along its brownish stems. The flowers only open for a few hours in the morning sun and there are usually five petals but sometimes four or six. Its seeds are ovate to triangular, reddish brown to black and shiny. Each plant is capable of producing 240,000 seeds which are viable for up to 40 years. It is found in gardens and bare ground from June to October.

I made this soup the other night, delicious on a hot summer day. It is creamy, yet has no cream. The ingredients are ones people give you - zucchini and the purslane, which you can go find in your backyard! It is from the Food and Wine 2010 Annual Cookbook.

This soup does not have any characteristics of split pea soup, which I don't particularly care for. It is fresh and light. My 16 year son did not care for it, he would rather have a slab of meat, any meat. My husband loved it, in fact had some for lunch the following day.

6 servings 45 minutes plus 3 hours chilling time

1 Tbsp olive oil plus extra for drizzling (if desired)
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 pounds small zucchini, thinly sliced (save aside a few shavings for garnish)
1 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp finely shredded basil leaves
1 cup ice
1 cup purslane leaves

In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the sliced zucchini, season with salt and cook, stirring occassionally, until tender, 10 minutes.

Add the water and bring to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat, discard the bay leaf and stir in the shredded basil.

Working in small batches, puree the soup in a blender until very smooth (do NOT try to blend any hot soup all at once, it will explode out of the blender, don't ask how I know this, just trust me!)

Transfer the zucchini puree to a glass bowl, add the ice and refrigerate the soup for at least 3 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Season the soup with salt and pepper. Ladle into shallow bowls and top with a small handful of purslane leaves and zucchii shavings. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with a salad and crusty french bread.

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