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Quelites love

(article, Deborah Madison)

Quelites is one name for a happy green weed that we could also call a vegetable, since it’s eaten with enthusiasm by many.

“Not by me,” you might be thinking, but it could be. These soft green leaves are popular with the Latino community in New Mexico. Farmers sometimes pluck the leaves from their stems and sell them bagged at the farmers' market, labeled as "wild spinach." 

According to Stephen Facciola’s [%amazonProductLink Cornucopia asin=0962808725 newpage=true], quelites refers to a cultivated race of plants originally from Atlixco, Mexico. “The leaves are prepared and eaten like spinach,” he writes. 

In other places, quelites are called lamb's quarters. Some are wild, and some are cultivars, such as Good King Henry or Magenta Spreen, a beautiful version with a magenta star-like center. Huauzontle is one variety you might eat in Mexico, especially in Puebla. Its flower clusters are cooked simply, then finished in different ways — with sauces, cheese, or dipped in batter and fried.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Quelites, also known as lamb's quarters, can be prepared as you would prepare spinach."]

Others members of the genus Chenopodiaceae are probably more familiar: spinach, quinoa, chia seeds. One characteristic this leafy group shares is the shape of the leaf, which resembles a goose’s foot (Cheno, goose; podia, foot.)  

It does, in fact, and I just saw a goose yesterday, so I know. But it has occurred to me that most people today probably don’t have a clue what a goose’s foot is shaped like. 

Whether you call them quelites, goose feet, or lamb’s quarters, you should know that these greens are good to eat. Writing from Illinois in her weekly newsletter for Henry’s Farm, Terra Brockman brings them up, since Henry apparently has plenty of it on the farm, and it is now available.

“Anything you do with spinach, you can do with lamb's quarters,” she writes. “Put it in a salad, sauté it lightly in olive oil, make a soup or quiche, or scramble with eggs. I’ve come to the point where I think steamed lamb's quarters tastes even better than spinach.”

And I agree with her — it is better than spinach, which is good because it’s now too warm for spinach. Quelites don’t have that fuzzy quality that spinach has, and they feel as if they indeed will make you strong. The plants themselves are strong and vigorous. I now appreciate that they mingle with my potatoes and peas.

What you do is pluck the leafy clusters off their stems, because the stems get wiry when cooked. Give them a rinse, then either steam them or sauté them. I sautéed them with diced onions, giving the onions a good head start. Then, I like to eat them in a corn tortilla or add them to a pot of pinto beans. 

Quelites don’t take but a few minutes to cook, but taste them as you go. As the season progresses and they get a little older and tougher, they will take longer. And just like spinach, masses of leaves cook way down.

p(blue). Editor's note: We thank Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farm for the use of his quelites photo.

p(bio). Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

reference-image, l