A traditional New Mexico specialty that is especially popular during Lent, quelites taste best when made with wild spinach (lamb’s quarters) or purslane, which grow abundantly in many backyards and fields throughout the state. But you can do well using the “tame” kind of spinach. Some traditional recipes for quelites call for stirring a few tablespoons of cooked beans, peas, or lentils into the spinach just before serving.

½ pound fresh wild spinach

1 tablespoon shortening or oil

3 tablespoons onion, chopped

1 tablespoon sweet peas

¼ teaspoon crushed red chile

Salt to taste

Serves 2 to 3

  1. Wash greens well, chop, and steam for about 10 minutes, or until tender.
  2. Sauté the onion in shortening, mix in drained spinach, chile, peas, and salt, and cook for an additional 5 minutes.


Traditional plants are deeply rooted in New Mexico culture, used for medicinal and culinary purposes by Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish settlers, mountain men, homesteaders, and many others who made the region their home. New Mexico herbs include oshá, a member of the parsley family that Native people have harvested for centuries to help ease cold symptoms and respiratory problems. The root can be chewed or made into a tea. Chokecherry has long been prized for its antioxidant-rich juice, extracted from the shrub’s dark red berries and used to make tasty jellies, syrups, sauces, and liqueurs. The ancient Pueblo people knew that a tea made from chokecherry bark was a remedy for everything from headaches to heart problems. Cota, or Navajo tea, is wild-harvested by Diné and Zuni people as plant medicine for a variety of ailments. When Spanish colonists arrived in the 16th century, they brought with them Mediterranean herbs—lavender, oregano, and sweet basil, which New Mexicans cooked with and also carried in their pockets for luck. Even anise, whose dried seeds give New Mexico’s bizcochitos their lovely licorice-like flavor, serves a dual purpose, being a remedy for indigestion.

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