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Rigla

OK, I’ll begin with saying that I really love recipes with a story behind them no matter how simple.

Part of my great experiences for that year in the Sudan was learning how to cook some unique dishes. One such dish was rigla. The English word for it is “purslane”. It is known in other languages as well, I am learning, for example, it is called “verdolaga” by the Mexicans. It’s popular in Turkey as “semizotu ” and is beginning to enjoy a bit of recognition in the United States. Apparently, it has had a longer standing in the UK. We enjoy having it on special occasions. I have heard that a reasonable substitute for it is spinach, but for me, there is no replacement of the real thing. (Insha Allah, I will soon gather a sampling of recipes for this wonderful & nutritious green plant. They will also be posted on Omm Rafiq’s Corner.)

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Hawa’s Rigla (Purslane)

Two things first before the actual recipe: the story (clip) and the vegetable.

Hawa was my neighbor for the year that we lived in the Sudan. She had two children, Nada (who was the same age my daughter Falaqi aged 5) and Nuha, an infant of several months. Although we lived in Khartoum Bahri, Hawa was a school teacher in a high school in Omdurman, across the Nile. She taught home economics and she was an excellent cook. Her husband worked in Abu Dhabi and when I found out that she was locking her daughters in her apartment when she went to work, I ended up volunteering to take care of her children. She never repaid me in money, nor did I ever ask her for that, but from time to time she would bring me precious fruit (it was terribly expensive at that time) and occasionally she would make THE RIGLA.

Now, I had learned how to make it, but was making the major mistake of adding water to it so she decided to take me under her wing and teach me. Since I was quite new to Arabic and she had zero English, she insisted that I come to her kitchen to watch and learn — and what better method as I have never forgotten it. If I had been given a written recipe, I would have always had to go back and read it in order to cook the dish properly.

Hawa used to just show up at the door, clap her hands a few times (to see if anyone was home) and then just walk in (this was the custom of the people there). I’d come rushing out to find her with a steaming hot pot of THE RIGLA, which by now we all loved so much. Most people there made it with lamb stew meat, but Hawa, being financially better off than most, made hers with Lamb Chops. She was an excellent cook and a very generous person. I have since lost touch with her and her daughters who are no doubt grown women with families of their own. Make du’aa for them please; they were very kind to us throughout our adjustments to living overseas.

I was fond of cooking with garlic salt in those days and was telling Hawa how I missed not having my familiar spices. She took some cloves of garlic and put them in a pestle along with salt and crushed it with the mortar – presto, garlic salt to rub on hard-to-get fresh chicken.

Next, I guess you must know what rigla is or you won’t be able to make the recipe. I have seen it in the States at some supermarkets but it is not native to there. Actually, before we went to Sudan, I had never seen or heard of it before. [Update 2011: I have read some blogs where people from the States said it was growing on their lawn and they never knew what it was. Once they found out, the feasting began. I think most of them used it as a fresh green in salad. I have recently started adding it in my salads.]

It is common in Sudan, Egypt and Saudi. It may be a Middle Eastern only vegetable but I don’t know why it couldn’t be cultivated in the West. The whole plant is harvested. It is long, green with tiny leaves all down to the stem. It resembles a long-stem clover, only the leaves cover the length of the stem which is about 5-6 inches long.

In preparation, you must cut off the roots. The people grab a hand full, cut off the roots and slice downward across the top in order to make little sections before slicing cross-wise so that you have little tiny round pieces of the plant. This is done all the way down the stems until you reach the ends and then you start another bunch. It would be typical to use about 3-4 bunches. It seems like a lot but it cooks down like spinach.

Rigla / Purslane

Here is a single strand of clean rigla.

You’ll find it in the market in bunches like this:

The Recipe:

Since the entire plant is pulled out of the ground, it is very sandy, so once it is all cut,you must wash it several times until the water runs clear of any sand and dirt particles.

2 pounds of lamb chops or lamb stew meat
2-3 onions, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
8 oz. tomato paste
4 bunches of rigla
cooking oil
2 handfuls of red lentils (about 1/2 to 1 cup)
(or you can use rice as they used to make it with either one. I prefer the lentils)
additional onions for sauteing at the end

In a large pot saute the onions in the cooking vessel of your choice until they appear yellow and transparent. I like to use my cast iron dutch oven.

Add the lamb chops or stew meat along with salt and pepper to taste. Turn fire to medium. Add the chopped tomatoes , cover and continue to cook.

While the meat and onions are cooking, dice the rigla into small pieces and wash well using several waters as is done when washing spinach or other greens. When the vegetable is clean, drain off all water and then add to the pot of meat. DO NOT ADD WATER. This is the fatal mistake I made and it came out tasting like nothing. The bits of stems and leaves will retain enough water for cooking. Keep the pot covered.

When the stems and leaves have cooked down a bit, add the tomato paste and turn flame down a bit and cover the pot.

After a while, say, 20 minutes or so, stir the vegetable around and add a couple of handfuls of red lentils (about 1 cup). Remain cooking for about another 20 minutes.

Slice an onion or two into long slivers with a couple of cloves of garlic (diced) and sauté in olive oil. Let the onions get brown and a little crispy. Take a spoonful or two of the rigla mixture and stir it in with the onions & garlic. Then pour that mixture of rigla, onions and olive oil on top of the rigla dish and serve.

The finished dish:

This dish is soooooooooooooo good. I’ve never had it raw (there are several salad recipes for it), but now that I’m now back in rigla country that may be a new thing for us to try, insha Allah.
Update August 2010: I had it raw in a salad a little over a year ago. It was chopped up small similar to the way it is prepared for the stewed dish, and added to the salad along with other greens. Absolutely delicious.

[Interesting note: In the U.S. purslane is considered a pervasive weed. Greeks call it “blood cleansing” and in Mexico, it is considered a good food for diabetics. Recent research shows that it is one of the best vegetable sources for omega-3 fatty acids, as well as carotene and vitamin C. It’s always nice to know that good nutrition is found in your food choices .]

August 1, 2010: I was searching for a picture to add showing how chopped rigla (purslane) looks and found this variation – a Turkish recipe from Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook which can be viewed here.
(BTW, this is just a reference to this particular recipe and I am not endorsing the entire website.)

Turkish Purslane Dish
(Semizotu Yemegi)

250 gr Purslane, washed and drained or 100 gr rosettes
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 handful rice, washed, drained
1 large tomato, peeled, cut in small pieces
1-2 green onions, chopped
2 tbsp crushed tomatoes, in can
Salt
Pepper
1 tbsp lemon juice – if you cook rosettes you should add it!

Cook the olive oil, green onion, rice, tomato, crushed tomato, salt and pepper in a medium sized pot until the rice is almost done over medium heat with the lid on. Add the purslane, close the lid and cook for 5 more minutes over medium heat. Turn the heat off and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Place the dish on a service plate, put one dollop of plain Turkish Yogurt on top and serve.

2 servings.

* Purslane is one of my favorite vegetables and not well known in Canada. The plant has thick, small, round shaped moist leaves. The stems are especially juicy and delicious. It grows like a weed everywhere. I used to have them in my backyard, but they were smaller than they should be. Unfortunately I moved to a condo a couple years ago so I am not able to pick them up from my backyard anymore:( Recently my friend told me that she found somethiAsng that looks like Purslane at a Loblaws in Toronto. It was very easy to find it on the shelf with the name of Rosettes:) They smell like roses when you chew it:D

I used Rosettes instead of Purslane to cook this dish and make salads with it. Rosettes doesn’t have a sour taste like Purslane does. That’s why I added 1 tbsp lemon juice while I cook Purslane Dish to give the right taste.

Rigla/Purslane as a salad

Purslane and Parsley Salad
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Active time: 30 min
Total time: 30 min

You might run across purslane, with its glossy, plump leaves, at a farmers market—and you might even find it growing in the cracks of your sidewalk or in your yard. Luckily, this incredibly nutritious and juicy green is a weed, which means it pops up wild nearly everywhere. Lots of chopped parsley and a simple vinaigrette flatter its herbal, lemony crunch.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes (preferably assorted heirloom varieties), halved or quartered if large
6 cups packed tender purslane sprigs and leaves (from a 1-pound bunch)
4 cups packed flat-leaf parsley leaves (from 2 large bunches)

Preparation:
Whisk together oil, lemon juice, shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Add tomatoes, purslane, and parsley, gently tossing to coat.

Cooks’ note: Herbs and greens can be washed and dried 1 day ahead, then chilled in sealed plastic bags lined with paper towels. Toss with tomatoes and vinaigrette just before serving.

Read more here.