Purslane: the name in English always makes me think of leafy country lanes and Shakespeare. In Turkish it is semizotu. This lovely versatile vegetable is really a summer item but it is still available. One of my very first jobs here years ago was teaching English at the university in Ankara. I loved those lunches in the cafeteria as more often than not, they were all-in-one , vegetable-based dishes, sometimes with a little mince thrown in, which I soon discovered are typical of Turkish home cooking. Not smart fare but tasty, healthy, easy and also economical for the housewife to put on the table every day. You can find this sort of cooking in little neighbourhood restaurants or lokantas everywhere. I just love meals like this. They can stretch very easily to accommodate extra guests round the dinner table too. How different to our own meat and two veg! I never used to buy semizotu as I wasn’t sure what to do with it but now I buy it regularly and use it in salads in the summer or serve it hot as in this recipe below. The fleshy leaves are highly nutritious, a good source of vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
1. Cut off the roots which are often very muddy, and throw away. Put the purslane in the sink and discard any thick stalks and bruised or damaged leaves. Keeping the smaller, thinner stalks is fine.
3. Dice the tomato and chop the onion.
4. In a pan place the purslane, onion, tomato, olive oil, seasoned salt, and washed rice or bulgur and gently mix.
5. Very important: do NOT add water. There will be enough liquid from the tomato and the water still on the leaves.
6. Cover and cook for 45 minutes over medium to low heat, leaving the pan uncovered for the last 15 minutes. The sweet fragrance of the semizotu cooking is wonderful.
Afiyet olsun!Let it sit for 5 mins and then serve with plain yogurt if you like it. The ideal vegetarian’s lunch or supper, I would say!
Turkish cooks have a wonderful way of chopping onions into little crescent-shaped pieces. Ask a Turkish friend to show you. They do it in their hands, not using a chopping board. I tend to use my food processor and once I have got it out, chop up several onions and freeze in little plastic containers that I use only for this.
- Your choice of pan is important too: you may not be aware but Turkish cooks on the whole tend to use wide, open pans as opposed to our more upright saucepans. Over the years, I now much prefer this type. Well, the shape suits this sort of cooking as you can see in the picture above. The way the food is displayed appeals to me.
- You can use 1.5 kg spinach instead of the purslane if you like. All the other ingredients remain the same although the time will increase to 1 hr as the spinach will first release its juices and then reabsorb them. Remove the lid for the last 15 minutes as before.
- Make sure that any extra liquid boils away. It shouldn’t be too watery.
- Try to time this dish so that after letting it rest for 5 minutes, you can serve. It will be at its best then.