Veggie of the Week - Chual
sponsored by Coleman Farms
This week's vegetable is yet another weed, Chenopodium album (White Goosefoot), known as Lamb's Quarters or Chual, Cenizo, or Quelite blanco in the market. As our links show, it has strong credentials as a weed (though not 'noxious', apparently), but perhaps even stronger ones as a vegetable. The "landesdenkmalamt" link (in English) discusses the archaeology of a mesolithic (ca. 10,000 year old) site which includes, among the remains of other vegetable food matter, the presence of Chenopodium album.
With good reason. Lamb's quarters is prolific and bears over a long season. It's also tasty and nutritious, presenting a wide range of minerals and vitamins and, especially when the seed heads develop, of protein: it's closely related to Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and the seeds, like quinoa grain, are a good source of lysine, the essential amino acid rarely found in plants (so, rarely in fruit, nuts, vegetables including legumes).
It's a bit like spinach to cook and to eat. Unless the stalks are very young, you'll want to strip the leaves and infloresences or seed heads off and cook them, steaming, boiling, or stirr fry. They should be fairly well cooked since the leaves are more substantial than spinach. For this reason, Lamb's quarters is probably more suited to mixing with other vegetables than spinach, since it won't get lost or auto-puree as readily.
The taste is faintly spinach or chard combined with a bit of broccoli or kale, with stoney overtones. It goes well with egg and cheese - it's not an accident that one recipe includes this vegetable in a quiche. Simpler, and as satisfactory, is using the blanched leaves and inflorences in an omelet. The closely related Chenopodium berlandii is native to Mexico, where the seed heads are used in soups and also, having first been parboiled, tied in bunches, stuffed with grated cheese, dipped in beaten egg, and fried. The same can be done with Lambs' quarters toward the end of the season.
The nutrition guide page suggests Lamb's quarters is very high in sodium, and can be high in oxalic acid. My own experience based on taste tests is that the oxalic acid level is probably similar to that of mild spinach - certainly far lower than sorrel's; and I haven't noticed the sodium. My suggestion is that, as with purslane, these properties are strongly influenced by local growing conditions.
The Chenopodiaceae are a large and possibly somewhat promiscuous family, with the result that there can be some visual and nomenclatural confusion - 'Lamb's Quarters' (or 'pigweed') can equally apply to Chenopodium album, brought in from Europe, as well as to several native species, notably Chenopodium missouriense. Similarly, 'chual' can refer to both album and the almost identical berlandii, which differs from the former at the end of the season, when it turns a deep russet and typically has somewhat larger seed heads. As if that weren't enough, quelite means something like 'cooking green', and 'quelite blanco', generally used for amaranth greens, can be used instead of 'chual' because Lamb's quarters is white, or at least more white than green, as its Latin name suggests.
The first three links this week are particularly recommended for the historical, ecological and cultural perspective they provide. Lamb's quarters doesn't seem to have much inspired recipe posters or bloggers, but the other links do provide more information on, for example, the weed vs. vegetable issue, and on some other traditional uses of the plant.