Since the early days of the Tucson CSA we have received “quelites” in our shares. Also known as Mexican wild greens, quelites are consumed in large quantities in Mexico and many other parts of the world, where they are grown as crops as well as harvested wild. The term quelites comes from the Náhuatl language and generally refers to either amaranth greens (pigweed), or to lamb’s quarters (goosefoot or chenopodium), although in Mexico many other wild greens are collectively known as quelites. Essentially, quelites can be cooked like spinach, hence their other appellation of wild spinach.
These wild greens become naturalized on the farm, self seed every year and grow in and around the culitivated crops. Some folks might call them a weed, but we have come to view them as a sustainable and nutritious way to introduce variety into our CSA shares. Amaranth in particular, is a boon to our summer shares as no other green besides verdolagas will tolerate the summer heat. Both lamb’s quarters and amaranth are a great source of vitamins including beta-carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, and folate, and dietary minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. However, their moderately high content of oxalic acid (similar to that in spinach and chard) inhibits the absorption of calcium and zinc, and also means that they should be avoided or eaten in moderation by people with kidney disorders. Cooking the greens lessens this effect and serving the greens with calcium rich dairy products will ensure that you still get a healthy dose of calcium with your meal.
Both amaranth and lamb’s quarters have a mild flavor and are easily substituted for spinach in almost any recipe. Harvested young, the many leaved greens possess a tender stalk that can be chopped up and eaten along with the greens. If the plants are a bit more mature, you’ll notice tougher stalks that you may want to remove. Briefly blanching the greens (about 30-60 seconds) in a large pot of boiling water will remove some of the oxalic acid in the vegetable and produce a tender green that can be used like frozen spinach in recipes like spinach dip. After the quelites are blanched, you’ll want to squeeze any excess water from them before you chop them, then you can mix them with cheese for an enchilada or lasagna filling, puree with broth for a simple soup or mix them into a creamy dip or casserole! The greens and tender stems are also great sautéed alongside other veggies in a stir fry.