When I was a little girl, I was fascinated all the things my grandparents could do with and knew about plants. That fascination deepened as I grew older and even now, the sight of hollyhocks or lamb’s quarters growing on the side of the road always makes me want to stop and forage.
My grandmother’s knowledge of the healing properties of plants was formidable and I wished I had thought to write everything she showed me down into notebooks when I was little and even a teenager. With the arrogance of youth, I’d thought she’d always be around and she’s not so I have my memory to rely on. I also rely on books about herbs and wild plants as well as the internet. Nothing beats my grandmother’s stories though. She knew the name of every plant and flower and she always knew a story for it, a legend or a myth. She’d tell me when the best time to gather them, which way to cook or prepare them to maximize their healing properties. I loved walking outside with my grandmother and a basket. We’d stop and gather, clip and she’d tell me the story behind each plant we picked. Those were magical times.
My grandfather, another formidable source of gardening lore, was a little different, He knew how to plant, when to plant, ingenious ways to irrigate like his amazing maze of glass coffee jars that poured water and re-directed it into the different furrows of his garden. What he knew, he used in different ways. He was a healer – you would say masseuse here but that’s not quite accurate. He was a sobador or a huesero. In other words, he healed by massage. That was magical too. People came by the house all the time, and he’d clap his strong hands together and get out his special olive oil and fix em right up. He never took money for it, although people tried and tried to give it to him. He’d say, “no cobramos por ayuda” We don’t charge when someone needs help. I remember a man who brought his daughter often. The daughter had one leg shorter than the other and she limped. It took a few years but my Papa (that’s what I called him) healed her. The last time I saw her she walked without a limp. He would use certain herbs to steep in olive oil for different effects. Thanks to both my grandparents, I’ll never starve if left to fend for myself in the woods or someplace like that.
One of the wild plants my grandmother loved to make was quelites or lambs-quarters. It was a weed that just grew everywhere along with verdolargas (sorrel) in the springtime here in L.A. She made them lots of different ways and I always loved them. To me, the taste was of springtime and summer. I love verdolargas too and their tangy spring taste always makes me smile. The other day at the Farmer’s Market here in town, I came across a man selling quelites and immediately started thinking of cooking them. It had been years since I’ve had them and my mouth was already watering. I bought several bunches to make in different ways and headed home gleefully clutching my bounty. Quelites are very versatile and their taste is somewhat like spinach, only more delicate.
I made chicken soup for the grandkids one day and threw in a couple of bunches of quelites. I know now that lambs-quarters are a powerhouse of nutrition (check out the nutrition table ), so I was excited to feed them to the little ones who were just getting over a cold.
Today I went to a Dodger game and came home hot and hungry. It’s only April but it feels like August. As I type this at 8:30 p.m., my thermometer says its 80 degrees. I wanted something cold and crunchy, something healthy and good and I remembered the quelites. I also remembered that I had tofu in the fridge. Yum! I knew I was going to make faux ceviche, using the tofu as my seafood. If you don’t have quelites in your neighborhood, use fresh spinach or any green leafy. It will be wonderful. I am trying to cut down on my intake of tortilla so instead of a tostada shell, I served the ceviche inside an avocado half. Either way, it’s a fast, yummy, healthy and tasty treat.
Tofu and Quelites Ceviche
I pound extra firm or firm Tofu, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 bunch of chopped quelites or green of your choice – for this I used both spinach and quelites
4 sticks of celery, sliced thinly
1 bunch of chopped cilantro (substitute parsley if you can’t find cilantro)
1 bunch of green onions sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Chop everything and place in a bowl, gently toss so the Tofu doesn’t break down and serve in a halved avocado or on top of a tostada shell. Add Tapatio or other hot sauce if desired.