A majority of the ingredients used in Greek cuisine are the standard foods that most of us keep in the pantry and refrigerator. Onion, flour, oregano, cinnamon, salt, potatoes, all of these are common fare. However, occasionally, during my trips to Greece, I come across ingredients that have little to no presence in the United States. Two such ingredients are green amaranth, known as "vlita" in Greek, and purslane, or "glystrida". The reason I chose to write about these two plants together is that both are considered weeds.
Having grown up in Switzerland, I am familiar with the notion that certain weeds are edible and in some cases considered a delicacy. During my childhood, it wasn't uncommon to see people on a Sunday afternoon strolling through the fields behind our home, filling bags with dandelion greens from which they would prepare salads. You can imagine my amusement when walking through home improvement stores years later and noticing that this same plant was the one chosen to grace the front of weed killer sprays.
It is unfortunate that green amaranth and purslane aren't more prevalent in American culinary culture. Maybe it is because they are categorized as weeds, which may mean that unlike greens such as spinach or kale, these plants are difficult to keep in check in the yard. This is something I will soon find out, as I intend to plant both in our vegetable garden. Hopefully this won't be to the chagrin of my husband, who is maniacal about our lawn and won't be too pleased if it becomes invaded with weeds that otherwise wouldn't be there.
If you're wondering why I would even bother to grow these, it is simply because they taste great and have wonderful nutritional benefits. In Greek cooking, green amaranth leaves and stems are boiled in salt water and served with olive oil and fresh lemon juice. These leaves contain vitamin A and C, folate, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Purslane leaves are added raw to salads and contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, C, and E, as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron.
In addition to sharing with you my gardening adventures with these two plants, I will post related recipes in the event that any of you have the opportunity and interest in preparing them.