Lamb's quarters at the Alhambra Farmer's Market
At first I was not interested in taking home the weed called "lamb's quarters." Or lambsquarter or lambs quarter, depending on who you ask — regardless I can't help but hear "hind quarters." I passed over this vegetable for more familiar leafy greens — bok choy, spinach. But the name kept popping back into my mind; the following week I bought two bundles without hesitation. Sometimes an odd name works out for the best.
Lamb's quarters (chenopodium album in Europe, chenopodium berlandieri in North America) aka "goosefoot" and "fat hen", is an annual herbaceous plant used as a culinary vegetable throughout the world. Widely available in practically every continent, it is also considered a weed because of it's fast growing and stubbornly hardy nature. Some farmers and gardeners hate the sight of the plant, while others embrace it as a wild cultivated vegetable, food for farm animals and as a beneficial ground cover crop.
I was surprised to find that lamb's quarters rival other vegetables like spinach in minerals and vitamins, including cancer fighting flavonoids and polyphenols. However, like spinach, chard and beets, it is rich in oxalic acid, which may be of concern due to it interfering with the absorption of calcium in the body. But unless you are especially vulnerable to oxalates (those with kidney stones, gout, rheumetoid arthritis, etc) you shouldn't have much to worry about.
Lamb's quarters (like most other "weeds") flourish when the weather warms up, so look to find them throughout late spring. When picking, look for crisp, leafy greens with little blemishes. All the bunches of lamb's quarters I came across had their roots intact. If that's the case, check to see that they aren't overly dried out as this can mean the plants have been sitting around for a while. Don't wash them unless you are going to use them right away. Otherwise, wrap them loosely in some paper towels in a plastic bag, they should keep in your fridge for up to a week (and you can always freeze them for later use). When you are ready, give them a rinse and tear off the leaves and tender stems. You'll find that the lower part of the vegetable may be too tough to use, feel free to discard these (or even try planting the roots in your garden).
So how to eat this wild weed? Think spinach. The leaves and shoots can be eaten raw in salads and sandwiches, or cooked in soups and quick sautes with olive oil and garlic. It's great with eggs, either chopped in an omelet or scrambled. For a more satisfying brunch item, try lamb's quarter in a savory pie with feta cheese and filo dough. Also check out this page from Mariquita Farms that lists a few recipes including soups, tacos and a veggie spread. Lamb's quarters are extremely popular in Indian cuisine, try them in place of spinach in Sarson da Saag, a curry dish that also uses mustard greens.
Do you have any recipes or tips for lamb's quarters? Have you also bought produce purely based on a peculiar name? Let us hear them in the comments,or send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org!