Purslane is at its best when the plant is young, small and close to the ground. It can be difficult to gather, but you will be rewarded with its tender, delicious leaves. Bigger purslane is good too, however, and easier to pick.

So grab your scissors and go. But remember: be sure you know what you're picking. Purslane is easy to spot once you're familiar with it but consult a field guide to plants or an herb book to be sure. Also remember to wash your foraged plants thoroughly: they may have been exposed to harmful substances.

To prepare purslane, fill the sink with cold water and immerse the entire bunch. Swish it around to loosen the zillions of tiny black seeds and any dirt that may be clinging to it. The seeds are safe to eat, but most of them will fall to the bottom of the sink anyway. While the purslane is floating in the water, use scissors to trim and discard any thick stems. Lift the purslane from the water and spin it dry or pat it softly between kitchen towels.

To store purslane, gently wrap it in a towel then place in a loosely closed plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a few days. If you wish to freeze purslane for the winter months (the texture will be compromised, but it still makes a sublime soup), steam it just until tender, squeeze out any excess moisture, cool, then wrap tightly in plastic and freeze.

Purslane is a lemony, crunchy, mild green. You can use it raw in salads, or cook it as a side dish. If you can't find it, you can substitute watercress (which has a milder flavor) or spinach (milder still).

Everyday Purslane Salad

(4 servings)

This salad has the crunch and tang of a good pickle or a vinegary slaw. It perks up cold chicken, grilled fish, takeout pupusas and plain old sandwiches.

1/4 cup cider or white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

4 cups purslane, washed and patted dry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives, scallions or red onion

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar and sugar, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Add the purslane to the bowl and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss again. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. Sprinkle with chives, scallions or red onion and serve.

Per serving: 29 calories, 1 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 73 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Springtime Purslane

and Pea Soup

(4 servings)

Served either hot or cold, this soup makes an elegant first course when garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt. It also makes a satisfying lunch when partnered with bread and cheese. Garnish it with a small sprig of chervil.

2 tablespoons butter

2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), washed and chopped

4 cups purslane, washed and patted dried

10-ounce box frozen petite peas or about 2 cups fresh small peas

1 pound Russett or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, heat the butter until the foam subsides. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until they are softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the purslane, peas, potatoes, stock or broth and a pinch of salt. Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and puree to the desired consistency. If an exceptionally smooth soup is desired, strain the soup, discarding the solids. Return the soup to the pot, return to medium-low heat and cook, stirring, just until warmed through. If the soup appears to be too thick, add more stock or broth to taste. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper accordingly. (May freeze the soup for up to 3 months; to thaw, transfer to the refrigerator a day or two ahead of when you plan to serve.)

Per serving: 296 calories, 12 gm protein, 45 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 21 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 293 mg sodium, 7 gm dietary fiber

Wilted Purslane and Spinach With Bacon and Lemon

(4 servings)

The purslane and lemon add a tart bite to this standard spinach and bacon duo. This works well with a delicate grilled white fish or a hearty roast chicken.

3 strips bacon, diced

2 preserved lemons, finely chopped (may substitute 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest)

3 cups purslane, washed and patted dry

3 cups spinach leaves, washed and patted dry

About 1/4 teaspoon 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. If using preserved lemons, add them now and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Begin to add the purslane and spinach, 1 handful at time, cooking just until the greens begin to wilt before adding the next handful. If using lemon juice and zest, add them with the greens. Cook until the purslane is wilted completely but is not yet mushy. Immediately remove from the heat; season to taste with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 42 calories, 2 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 148 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Simple Summer Purslane and Arugula Salad

(6 servings)

This is my idea of the perfect summer side salad. Those nights when you want to add some substance, top it with cold, sliced roast beets or bell peppers, chopped hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced red onion, cold fish or chicken and so on.

For the vinaigrette:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

1 clove garlic, minced or mashed

For the salad:

5 cups purslane, washed and dried

About 5 cups arugula leaves, washed, dried and coarsely chopped

2 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the oil, vinegar, mustard and garlic. Shake well; set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the purslane and arugula. Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette and toss again. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste and toss very gently. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and serve immediately.

Per serving: 112 calories, 2 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, trace cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 67 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Purslane is a lemony, crunchy, mild green. It is at its best when the plant is young, small and close to the ground. It can be difficult to gather, but you will be rewarded with its tender, delicious leaves.You can use it raw in salads, or cook it a side dish.