Huauzontle, a Mexican staple in L.A. edible gardens
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You can find huauzontle in the produce section of large supermarkets throughout Mexico, the bunches of thin stalks topped with hundreds of green flower buds. The sprigs are best blanched, tied in a bundle, wrapped with Oaxacan string cheese and dipped in an egg-flour-water batter for deep-frying like chile rellenos. You don’t need a fork. You eat it like a crispy vegetarian hot dog on a stick, drizzled with a simple tomato sauce.
Which explains why gardeners here are growing their own huauzontle. Although the plant’s cousin, lambsquarters (Chenopodium albun), is considered an invasive weed by many, huauzontle (Chenopodium berlandieri, subspecies nuttalliae) is semi-domesticated.
Huauzontle looks a bit like a broccoli rabe but is not so easy to use. The younger leaves can be cooked like spinach, but as huauzontle matures and sends out the highly prized flower buds, the leaves get bitter. The stems are inedible too. You can strip boiled buds from the stalks and press the cheese around them, forming a croquette for frying. A Yucatecan variation is a simple salad: boiled buds tossed with cooked new potatoes and a vinaigrette. (You can read Jonathan Gold’s take on huauzontle and how it factors into his review of Bizzara Capital in Whittier, and though recommendations on how to use the plant are scarce, we should point out that huauzontle fan Diana Kennedy’s book “From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients” does have some ideas.)
Gardeners at the Rosewood and Stanford-Avalon community gardens in L.A. harvest the young, sweet leaves early in the season but then let the plants grow to reach 6 feet or more, waiting for a midsummer harvest of the immature flower buds.
Like chipilín and papalo, huauzontle is a type of quelite, the wild greens of Mesoamerica. This is not a plant you’re likely to find in a nursery, but seeds are available online. Sources include Seeds of Change and J.L. Hudson. If you want to sample huauzontle before you plant it, you can find it in Northgate Markets in Southern California.
Nery Reyes, the garden manager at Rosewood Community Garden, says he had never eaten huauzontle until a gardener added it to a plot there.
“I’m from Guatemala and this is from Mexico,” he said. “But we had a lot of it last season, so I ate it. It was good.”
-- Jeff Spurrier
The Global Garden, a look at our multicultural city through the lens of its landscapes, usually appears here on Tuesdays. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook page for Gardening in the West.