When my younger sister and I were growing up, one of our many family traditions included an Easter egg hunt. My mother would stay up late to hide the neon and pastel plastic eggs, literally bursting with candy, around the house. My mother has many impressive skills, and yet hiding things might be one of her biggest talents; she has morbidly told us on many occasions that when she dies, we need to look in every pocket and every bag for hidden money, jewelry, and God knows what else.
The objective difficulty of this Easter hunt aside, I wouldn’t have been able to “win” under any circumstances. After years of being shamed by my dad, who would watch us from the couch and cheer every time the “little one” found another egg, I conceded to the fact that I was a gatherer, not a hunter. I was too thorough in scouring corners and the undersides of dining room chairs, not taking the sweeping view of the landscape like a lioness on the savanna. (And I expect my sister will appreciate that comparison, fierce woman that she is today.) Most of the time I stumbled upon eggs, taking a moment to marvel in my discovery, and losing precious seconds in the race as a result. Thinking back, it’s abundantly clear how my vata dosha manifested in this behavior . . . distracted and airy and too caught up in wonder even when chocolate was at stake. The embodiment of the ellipsis.
While this tendency didn’t help me succeed in this ironic celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, it has helped me in another arena: the farmers markets of New York City. I can spend hours meandering through markets, even those that stretch no longer than a (short) Brooklyn block; and in summertime, when the bins overflow with verdant, ripe offerings from the Earth, it’s even easier for me to get lost in gathering.
Last weekend, I managed to stumble upon the golden egg of the farmers market. I had just returned from a week-long immersion at the equally verdant Kripalu, where I became smitten with an unfamiliar, exotic-looking green at the salad bar called purslane. With woody stalks and leaves that reminded me of my succulent at home, Gloria, I naturally piled my bowl with it, having never met a plant I didn’t like. Purslane became my buffet staple, and I expected our affair would end when I crossed back over the state line.
Lo and behold, purslane greeted me with the tantalizing allure of an old lover at the very first stall I visited at the market that weekend. Could it be you? I thought to myself, but confirmed my suspicion with the vendor. I walked home with a dirty, rooty, bunch, a nostalgic smile on my face, and promptly Googled what I could do with it.
Turns out purslane is really meant for us gatherers. Like dandelion, it is technically a weed—a plant that a true hunter would overlook in hot pursuit of something like kale—but like many overlooked things is actually quite impressive. The delicate leaves have a buttery, lemony taste, but are packed with nutrients including omega-3 fatty acid (which is quite hard for vegans to get naturally). It also requires very little fussing with cooking-wise. Perfectly appropriate for the lazy-cooking days of summer, purslane is at its finest when gently tossed with some oil and acid, or steamed if you must, and a healthy pinch of salt. An invitation from nature to try less and enjoy more.
What made me really feel like a winner, though, was my second golden egg (a silver egg, perhaps?): the Japanese turnip. To me, it tastes like a hybrid of a yellow beet and jicama—crunchy and juicy, but soft, a little astringent. My summer belly is more forgiving toward raw foods, so in the spirit of the season I combined the chopped root with my weeds in a bowl, tossed, and ate.
This entire meal comprises farmers market gatherings, part of my mission to honor sustainability more consciously in my own life. I have no biases against any of the vendors, even the non-organic ones I see some patrons scoff at. In the process of researching sustainable agriculture for a current project, I’ve learned that pesticides can be a crucial part of a holistic land management practice, where as a medication targets a pathogen, a pesticide might treat sick plants in isolation in order to save the entire crop. Let’s face it, there’s no escaping chemicals in our world today. To me, eating foods that are grown with love, in soil that’s nutrient-dense and local, outweighs whatever inconvenience of washing, which I would do (and hope you do, too) even for my organic produce.
If your market is lacking in golden eggs such as these, don’t fret. Lightly boiled new potatoes, green beans, snap peas, cucumbers, and any tender greens would be fair substitutes in this simple summer salad. The intention is to fall in love with your food as I have, allowing each bite to be as nourishing to your spirit as it is to your body.
Simple Summer Salad with Purslane, Radish, and Turnip
- 4 kale leaves roughly chopped with stems
- 1 clove garlic sliced
- 1 cup purslane leaves
- 4-5 radishes sliced into rounds, with leaves
- 1 Japanese turnips chopped into matchsticks, with leaves
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tablespoon purple basil
- Hefty pinch of Maldon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a large sautee pan, lightly steam the kale and garlic with a thin layer of water until tender, 4-5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toss the purslane, radishes, and turnip slices in a large bowl with the olive oil and lemon juice. Use your hands to coat well.
- Arrange the kale and garlic on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Top with the remaining vegetables. Garnish with the basil, salt, and pepper.