Culture and Heritage

Bedazzled by the lipstick-hued looks of magenta spreen?

Would it disappoint you to know that it’s not quite as exotic as it might appear?

The lambsquarter/spreen greens are actually quite common to our southerly neighbors. In Mexico, these greens are known as quelites. This word, a blanket term for many edible wild greens, derives from the Aztec word quelitl, which was used for any culinary green or herb. They are often used to flavor the big pots of beans that are the mainstay of Mexican peasant food.

Quelites are celebrated by cookbook authors and Mexophiles (is that a word?) Deborah Madison, Aaron Sanchez, and Rick Bayless. A couple of years ago, Mexico City hosted a Simposio de Quelites en la UNAM, where botanists and nutritionists got together to pay homage to a native tradition that peasants have been quietly cultivating for centuries.

Greens Tacos (from Mariquita Farms)
This recipe is one of my favorite breakfast recipes, but of course it would work at any time of day. Please note the amounts given are approximate, I don’t measure anything when I make these. You could use more or less of any one of these ingredients.

3/4 pounds lambsquarters, cleaned well and sliced into approximate 1 inch pieces
2 teaspoons cooking oil
2 stalks green garlic, cleaned as a leek and chopped, or another alium family, whatever you have on hand (onion, green onion, garlic, leek…..)
Pinch red pepper flakes or cayenne
2 Tablespoons cream cheese
4-6 small corn tortillas or 2-3 larger flour ones

Heat the oil and add the garlic, having the greens ready to go, and cook garlic for about 30 seconds. Then add greens and cook until bright green and wilted, add red pepper (and salt and black pepper if you like). Take off heat and stir in cream cheese.

Heat tortillas, divide filling among them. Eat and enjoy.

Quelites and Beans (adapted from The Vegetarian Times, July 1997)
1 pound fresh lambsquarters—bigger stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 stems green garlic or 3 cloves ‘regular’ garlic—minced
3 leeks—finely chopped
1 cup canned pinto beans—rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon chili powder
salt and pepper—to taste

Rinse greens several times to make sure that all sand and grit are removed. Steam greens in tightly covered pot until wilted. Drain greens and finely chop them. In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic/onions and cook, stirring frequently, until leeks are soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in greens, beans and chili powder. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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