Papaloquelite or Papalo – the word is ancient like many Mexican words. Papalotl means butterfly and the word quelite means greens and is used for many edible greens and grasses including lamb’s quarters which I’ve written about before. My grandmother, who knew just about everything about plants and herbs told me that the plant got its name because its scent attracted butterflies. The word hearkens back to Azteca/Mexica times just like the avocado (aguacatl), tomato (tomatl), chile, chocolate (chocolatl), maiz and the venerable frijole. These staples form a large part of the cultural patrimony of Latin America and for me, to Mexico in particular. In the U.S., it is slowly making its way into the Mexican or Latina American markets where the clientele knows what to do with it. Years ago I had to go buy it in small little Mexican shops where the store owner grew it in his backyard or grow it myself. In Mexico, it grows rampant all over, its heady scent perfuming the air.
I love it. Just the sight of it in the vegetable aisle at Superior market the other day got my heart racing and I was like a little girl, hopping up and down in the aisle as excited as my granddaughter gets over a pink cupcake. My roommate David was looking at me in the oddest manner, wondering why his crazy Mexican, overly demonstrative business partner was in ecstasy over a humble green bunch of weeds. “It’s papalo” I shrieked, “we HAVE to get papalo for the sopes”. Looking at his skeptical face, I broke off a small leaf and told him to bite into it. Immediately his face changed from bewilderment to sheer foodie pleasure as I knew it would. I knew then I had him hooked and happily tucked my papalo into its little plastic bag and then into the shopping cart almost skipping (okay I actually did skip) down the aisle.
The Latin name for papaloquelite is Porophyllum ruderale and it is also known as Bolivian coriander though it is not a member of the coriander family. Some seed companies sell it, likening it to a combo between arugula, coriander and rue. There’s a wiki for it under Bolivian Coriander here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolivian_Coriander There are a few other posts about it online, but there still isn’t a huge wealth of info on it. I would love to hear your stories about it, any nutritional info, recipes etc. for a follow-up post on the herb.
Papalo has many uses. The scent is not unlike cilantro but headier, more perfumey. The leaves are wide and somewhat rippled, almost like watercress but without the crunch. It’s hard to describe the taste – some people compare it to cilantro but there’s no comparison to me. Papalo is its own. While sometimes it takes the place of cilantro in dishes, its taste is unique. It makes amazingly delicious salsas. I use it to top sopes instead of lettuce, I use it in salads, The citrusey, almost arugula-like strength of it lends well to pork dishes in particular. It makes a great lettuce substitute and I’ve used it in chopped up fresh on top of pastas. I love mixing papalo with cilantro too. One of my favorite meals is cilantro chicken served with white rice accompanied by a papalo and papaya salad. It is AMAZING with papaya. In Puebla, it is an important ingredient in the famous Cemita (a type of sandwich). It also is a perfect companion for fishes dishes, especially ceviche. David got hold of it last night and mixed it into some ice cream with lavender and basil and said it was great. I’ll have to try that too.
Papalo or papaloquelite is an amazing herb, one I’m glad to see is becoming more available here. My grandmother said it was good for me, but I have yet to find out the nutritional value of it. Either way this is an herb worth investigating. I