Cooking with purslane — or verdolaga — gives a new perspective on what many see as a weed

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Courtesy Esteban Salazar
Esteban Salazar, left, with his grandmother, standing behind, in 1987 in Center, Colorado.

The time of year is approaching in the San Luis Valley when Esteban Salazar keeps his eye out for a ground-hugging plant that many consider a weed. Verdolaga, Spanish for purslane, is a tart, vitamin-packed treat that he works into his diet. 

Salazar calls himself a wildcrafter, foraging for foods his maternal grandmother taught him to recognize. 

“It’s got very distinct little flowers. They’re round. I liken them to mouse ears,” he said. He often finds the plant on the fringes of lawns. “It grows everywhere. And once you’re familiar with it, you’ll see it.”

Salazar lived for a time with his late grandmother, Cora Trujillo, and remembers the smells and tastes of her kitchen in Center, Colorado. 

“The way that my grandmother would prepare [verdolaga], would be sauteed in a pan with chopped onions. Pork was often used in it.” 

He says it’s not a staple of his diet, but an occasional treat. 

“If you do cook it well, the bitterness is greatly reduced,” he added. 

Salazar provided the recipe below.

Verdolagas Tips

Verdolagas are best when the plant is young, small and close to the ground. Bigger Verdolagas are good too, however, and easier to pick.

To prepare verdolagas, fill the sink with cold water and immerse the entire bunch. Agitate in sink and rinse well to wash away any dirt. Use scissors to trim and discard thick and fibrous stems. Lift the purslane from the water and spin it dry or pat it softly between kitchen towels.

To store verdolagas, gently wrap them in a towel then place in a loosely closed plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a few days.

Verdolagas and Spinach/Lambs quarters with Bacon

(4 servings) The verdolagas add a tart bite to this standard spinach and bacon duo. 3 strips bacon, diced. 1 cup of cooked ground beef or cooked cubed pork can also be substituted for protein.

½ cup of diced onion and 2 large cloves of fresh garlic, chopped
3 cups verdolagas, washed and patted dry
3 cups spinach leaves or lambs quarters, washed and patted dry

About 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp. Carefully spoon off and discard the fat. Return the pan to medium heat. Add the verdolagas and spinach/lambs quarters, 1 handful at time, cooking just until the greens begin to wilt before adding the next handful. Cook until the verdolagas are wilted completely but not yet mushy. Add in onion and garlic and cook until caramelized. Immediately remove from the heat; season to taste with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper Sprinkle chopped bacon on top or substitute protein. Serve.