Portulaca oleracea, known as Semizotu in Turkish and purslane in English, is a green, leafy succulent. Similar to spinach, it is  a tasty vegetable that can be cooked or eaten raw. It is also one that figures widely in Turkish cuisine and is invariably on sale in every manav – greengrocers and market.

What's that strange vegetable? The wonders of semizotu
Purslane – some people think this is a weed but in Turkey we know better

Even so, semizotu is an ingredient that many foreign visitors often overlook, which is a pity because this remarkable plant – so often thought to be a weed – is packed full of goodness.

What's that strange vegetable? The wonders of semizotu
semizotu –  Fethiye markets sell it by the bunch

Greens with a history

Nowadays, purslane is eaten throughout much of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Mexico.

It can be found it the UK too, also for some reason it stopped making a regular appearance at mealtime in the 19th century.

It has been used in the Eastern Mediterranean since the 7th century BCE and in antiquity, its healing properties were thought so reliable that Pliny the Elder advised wearing the plant “as an amulet to expel all evil.”*

In China it is an ingredient used in traditional medicine.

Clever chickens

Scientists carrying out a study on how diets on the coastal and mountain areas of Crete differ, were surprised to find that levels of Omega 3 in the people living in the mountains were higher than those living on the coast – despite all the fish they ate. It transpired that this was due to the diet of the mountain chickens… they ate the purslane that grew wild and this significantly increased level of omega-3 fatty acids in the yolk. It also significantly boosted egg production. Since this research egg producers have increased not only production but sales by adding purslane to their layers’ feed.

For more information the link to the research study is here.

A weed or a super-food?

Although purslane is considered a weed in some countries, this humble succulent contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant.

It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol),[14] vitamin B, carotenoids), and dietary minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron.

For this property alone, it makes sense to include it in your diet.

The Telegraph suggests including purslane in you diet. In her article, “Common plants and weeds that you didn’t know you could eat,” the author, Eleanor Doughty, asks of purslane, “What’s in it for me?” and without further ado she tells us…

“It’s good for your heart, with the highest amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fats of any edible plant, or so say researchers at the University of Texas.

It is packed with vitamins E and C, and it is reported that purslane has 10-20 times more melatonin, an antioxidant that may inhibit cancer growth than any other fruit of vegetable yet tested. That seems like a big claim, but if it’s true then purslane needs to be your new edible weed at the table.”

Well, for countries like Turkey, purslane already makes a regular appearance at the table.

Three ways get you Eastern Mediterranean greens

Purslane can be eaten raw or cooked and all parts of it are edible, including the flowers. Three of Turkey’s favourite dishes are:

 Semizotu with yogurt

What's that strange vegetable? The wonders of semizotu
semizotu with yogurt

This recipe is so simple and yet so delicious… serve as a meze.

Semizotu with bulgur

This is a quintessentially Turkish dish – and like so many – is best served with a dollop of thick creamy yogurt, a sprinkling of pul biber (chilli flakes) and a hunk of crusty bread.

What's that strange vegetable? The wonders of semizotu
semizotu with bulgur

a bunch of semizotu

one medium white onion finely chopped

a Turkish coffee cup of oil olive

1 dessert spoon of tomato or red pepper puree

2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock or water

1 cup of bulgur or Turkish rice

Pepper, salt pul biber (chilli flakes)

Method

Wash and clean the purslane, roughly chop and put to one side.

Heat some of the olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onions without burning. When the onions are just turning gold, add the chopped tomatoes to the saucepan. Add the purslane, a little salt and pepper. Put on the lid and cook for about five minutes on a low heat.

Pour the litre of stock or water into the saucepan, bring to the boil and add the bulgur or rice. Return to the boil, cover tightly with the lid and reduce the heat. Check occasionally to make sure the pan hasn’t boiled dry. Add a little more water if required. Once the bulgur or rice is soft turn off the heat, cover pan with a clean tea towel and the lid and leave for a few minutes.

Your purslane dish is now ready to serve but it is just as tasty served cold.

To read this recipe in Turkish click here.

Semizotu salad

Raw purslane with tomatoes, cucumber and red onion makes a delicious and healthy salad. To find the recipe click here. We like it with crumbly white cheese (feta) and chopped red onion too.

What's that strange vegetable? The wonders of semizotu
Semizotu salad

Afiyet olsun…

Next week we will tell you about another vegetable that you may that you may think is strange, as it isn’t often seen outside Turkey. Watch this space!

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