Quelites: The Humble Herbs Enriching Mexican Cuisine

Discover the world of quelites, the humble and nutritious edible herbs that enrich Mexican cuisine. Learn about their varieties, traditional preparations, and how to incorporate them into your cooking for a taste of Mexico's rich gastronomic culture.

Quelites: The Humble Herbs Enriching Mexican Cuisine
Fresh quelites, the diverse and colorful herbs that enrich Mexican cuisine. Credit: Aserca

The quelites, a group of edible herbs, play an essential role in Mexican gastronomy, celebrated for their nutritional value and diverse flavors. These humble plants grow throughout Mexico's various climates, offering a treasure trove of ingredients that enrich the nation's culinary landscape.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at some of the most popular quelites and their uses in traditional Mexican dishes. By the end, you'll not only have a deeper appreciation for these marvelous plants but also be inspired to incorporate them into your cooking.

A Symphony of Flavors: Mexico's Aromatic Herbs

Quelites such as huauzontle, purslane, turnip, watercress, quintonil, chivito, amaranth, pápalo quelite, romerito, cenizo, and epazote are native to Mexico. Meanwhile, other herbs like cilantro, parsley, mint, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, bay leaves, and basil have been adopted into Mexican cuisine. Among these, epazote and cilantro are considered quintessential companions to many iconic Mexican dishes.

Romeritos: A Seasonal Staple in the State of Mexico

Romeritos are highly sought after in the State of Mexico due to their abundance during their growing season. A distinct feature of romeritos is that they must be cooked before consumption. Typically, they are boiled in water, drained, and then incorporated into sauces or stews. Romeritos are especially popular during Lent, Christmas, and New Year's celebrations, and are often prepared with mole and shrimp pancakes.

Quintoniles: Wild Gems of Mexican Cuisine

Quintoniles, native to Mexico, grow wild in various regions throughout the country, particularly along roadsides and between fields. They are most abundant from May to November, and one of the most popular species found in the central region is scientifically named cruentus L. Due to its high demand, this plant is also cultivated.

In the State of Mexico, quintoniles are commonly steamed. However, another delicious way to prepare them involves sautéing chopped onions (and optionally, garlic) in lard or butter, followed by the addition of quintoniles to cook in their moisture. This method brings out a more enjoyable flavor.

Availability: Seasonal Quelites in Local Markets

Most quelites are seasonal, but due to their immense popularity, many are now cultivated. Fresh quelites can be found at local markets and tianguis in the State of Mexico or the central supply center of Mexico City. Supermarkets generally don't stock these products, so seeking them out at traditional markets is the best way to find them.

Conclusion: Embracing the Humble Quelites

Quelites hold a special place in Mexican culture, not only because they provide sustenance for the less fortunate, but also because of their humility. They grow unbidden, yet offer themselves readily for our nourishment. By incorporating these delightful herbs into your culinary repertoire, you'll not only enjoy new flavors and textures but also be part of a rich gastronomic tradition that celebrates the earth's generous bounty.