Supermarkets can be awfully uninspiring places for those in search of good food. The whole concept of goodness is watered down under blinking fluorescent lights, and inside flimsy plastic boxes. It’s not just the image of our industrial foodscape, but the reality of it. In Hong Kong, ninety percent of our food is imported: our apples are from America, our limes are from Thailand, and our bananas from the Philippines. This means that my fruit salad has more air miles than I do.
Naturally, geographical distance will affect the quality of our food too. A tomato has to last the 5700-mile journey from Holland to our dinner plates, and to a large-scale producer it just doesn’t make a load of sense to pick it ripe. Instead, the tomato is picked at its first stage of ripeness, otherwise known as a “mature green” tomato. After a day or two of exposure to ethylene gas, the harvest gradually changes to that familiar shade of deep red. This is, of course, the effect of an increasingly globalized planet. Yes, we do get affordable produce that is deaf to the seasons, but have we also forgotten the joys of a summer’s harvest? In a city that has grown dependent on cheap and reliable food, the rich flavors of a vine-ripened tomato have been lost to time. For these reasons, and many many more, I do my best to take the time to buy local. I’m lucky that every Sunday a small organic and local farmers’ market pops up at the Hong Kong Star Ferry Pier filled with this season’s bounty. By cutting down the length of the supply chain, not only is produce more fresh and delicious, but the price you pay doesn’t go into marketing campaigns and profit margins of large corporations. Part of the fun is coming across something absolutely random and figuring out how to shape it into something delightful.
This week, one of the Hong Kong farmers threw in a handful of wild greens with my usual grocery selection: purslane, a common weed. A bit more digging unearthed that Michael Pollan had labelled it as one of the most nutritious foods in the world for its vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 count. It has a slight refreshing astringency when eaten raw and all it needs is a sprinkling of sea salt and olive oil to transform into a magically nourishing side-dish. In my mind, the most wonderful thing about purslane is the fact that it is probably peering through the cracks of your neighborhood sidewalk, and not on the shelves of Wholefoods for an obscene sum. It’s a sustainable and affordable food solution to our complex agricultural problems, and it’s tasty too.
Watermelon and Wild Purslane Salad
serves 46 cups watermelon cubes, from about 1/4 of a large watermelon
1 large handful of purslane (coarsely chopped)3 ounces of feta cheese, drained and crumbled
1 handful of mint leaves (coarsely chopped)em>1 handful of coriander (coarsely chopped)
A teacup of olive oil infused with a whole garlic clove and half a squeezed lemonFlaky sea salt
Start by taking a garlic clove and bruising it with the side of your knife. Use a small cup to submerge it in olive oil and add half a lemon after squeezing out the juice. Set aside.The most time consuming part of this recipe is all that slicing and dicing, but it depends how you like your raw veggies. I prefer them Lebanese style like tabbouleh because there’s nothing like eating a salad with a large spoon. Once that’s done, pour the juice that has run off the watermelon and toss with feta cheese until the watermelon is nicely coated.
Toss watermelon and feta with the mint leaves, coriander, purslane, and olive infusion. Garnish with sea salt and serve. Best had on a swelteringly hot summer’s evening.
/ Words and photography by Anne Berry /