Growing up in Ohio, then Idaho, Kyle Piispanen’s food culture was decidedly American. An interest in anthropology took him to Veracruz, Mexico, at the age of 18, and there, with a ranching family, he first experienced real Mexican food. Now in the final leg of a PhD, Kyle chats with Margret about milpa farming, corn tortillas, quelites and more.
The word milpa comes from the Nahuatl word milli which means cultivated field or tilled land, but as the most cultivated plant in Mexico has been corn, it soon became be synonymous with “my corn crop” (Translated excerpt from “The Underutilized Species of the Milpa,)
“Three sisters” is often used in English to refer to the main players: maize (corn), squash, and beans. Milpa include many other plants as Kyle explains, as well as other “crops” that might be considered secondary such as huitlacoche (corn fungus, below), chapulines (grasshoppers) and quelites.
Quelite is a term that refers in general to edible greens. In Central Mexico it often is used in reference to the amaranth green – quintoniles in this case, or cenizos are another variety.
Hundreds of greens are considered quelites. Refer to the resources linked to at the bottom of this page.
A tlacoyo made from nixtamalized corn, filled with fava (habas) bean paste and topped with cooked quintoniles, from a street vendor in Mexico City. Vendors unspecifically refer to these cooked greens as “quelites”.
More on quelites
The subject is vast, so we encourage you to explore the following resources. Although they are in Spanish, you’ll find there are plenty of photos captioned with names to make referencing easy.
Biodiversidad Mexicana: Quelites (CONABIO) this site is incredibly rich in information regarding the biodiversity of Mexico.
Quelites: Sabores y Saberes del Sureste del Estado de México, by Edelmira Linares, Robert Bye, Noemí Ortega, Antonio Aloy Arce (Instituto de Biología, UNAM) This recipe collection is one of several additional resources you’ll find linked to on the CONABIO page, above. It includes quelites found in the southeastern portion of the State of Mexico, but not limited to that area.
The eBook, Frutas y Verduras – A Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico , by podcast host and FyV founder, Margaret Hefner includes numerous quelites with some detail on how to use them – all in English.