A few weeks ago at the Farmers’ Market I spotted yet another unusual green: lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album, also known as goosefoot, pigweed, wild spinach, fat hen) at the Full Belly Farm table.
Chenopodium album grows all over the world, including in European trash heaps. The Oxford Companion to Food explains: “This plant thrives on muck heaps, and remains of it have been found in neolithic middens; many of the local common names used in England reflect this, e.g. dungweed, muckweed, and dirty dick.” With the recent concern over E. coli 0157:H7, I hope that farmers aren’t harvesting lamb’s quarters that grow in or around the dung heaps of corn-fed cattle.
In Mexico, these greens are called quelites (as are many other edible greens). According to Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, the word derives from the Aztec word quelitl, which was used for any culinary green or herb. Since my first introduction to the use of lamb’s quarters was by Bayless in Mexican cuisine, I cooked my bunch of lamb’s quarters in two Mexican dishes. The first was in soft tacos, with the greens lightly steamed and topped with hot sauce and cheese. The second was in a tortilla casserole, combined with cheese, corn, squash and crema (a relative of sour cream). The greens were excellent in both dishes, with a pleasing tenderness, a mild spinach-like flavor and none of the lingering astringency that I find in spinach.
Of the seven unusual greens profiled thus far, these are probably my favorite, and I’ll be sure to buy them whenever they appear in the market.
Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie television program on PBS this weekend was Episode 9, Living Off the Land. In the kitchen demonstration segment, the Gourmet staff member made what he called “Prospect Park Pesto,” a pesto made from lamb’s quarters and wild garlic foraged from Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The website doesn’t list a recipe for the pesto; it appeared to be a standard food processor pesto (pulverize the garlic by hand; puree the greens in the processor; add cheese, pine nuts and the garlic; pulse a few times; add olive oil while the processor is running.)
I have seen only three episodes of “Diary” and am quite impressed. The show travels the world in search of interesting food stories, like the use of indigenous ingredients in Brazil, making knives the old way in Japan, or farming in Maine. The segment lead-ins with the narrator typing at the keyboard are a bit annoying, but that’s a minor flaw.
Fixed broken links
Lamb’s quarters grew wild at the farmhouse where I lived for seven summers, while painting scenery for an opera company in upstate NY. They did have that quality of spinach and other greens of making the eater worry that they are taking the enamel off of one’s teeth.
(How much did they cost at the market?)
Since writing the post, I have heard of another farmhouse that had lamb’s quarters growing wild here and there near the house.
The lamb’s quarters were $1.25 per bunch, the usual price for bunched greens at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market.
Marc, thanks for the info. I will try and find this at the Farmer’s Market. I love greens and am always psyched to find one I haven’t tried yet!
I just cooked up some lamb’s quarters from a park in Bethesda, MD. We have eaten them from the same park for some 5 years. I learned about lamb’s quarters when I lived in New Mexico in the late 60’s. The local Hispanics used the name, “quelite,” to refer to it. It’s hard to beat!
I found out about Lamb’s quarter at the Herb N Health oasis here in Fort Worth Texas last year. I dug up one of her plants and put it in a pot at my house. This year it is growing prolifically in my garden and landscape. I am excited that i can go out the kitchen door and pick my greens. But did not know how to cook them until i decided to go on the internet to learn more about them today! Thanks for the insight!
Have you found an online source? I found a store site here in TX, but they want to charge me $27 bucks to send a 4.99 jar to me in Houston. Have not tried many smaller, local stores yet because of our current health situation. Would love to prepare green chorizo with it since I understand it is more traditional than using regular spinach. Thank you for your input!
Esther — I haven’t looked for an on-line source of lamb’s quarters, but suspect that ready to eat is hard to find because not many people grow the plant commercially. In Northern California, for example, it’s considered a weed and is invasive, so generally not planted on farms.
If you want to try growing your own, there might be seeds available from specialty seed stores.
Your best bet for bunches of lamb’s quarters is probably a farmers market or Mexican grocery store.