Quelites in Old Texts

In this case the text in question is Nuevo Cocinero Mejicano (1) En Forma De Diccionario (1888)

  1. Mejico or Mexico? and why? See the link to David Bowles etymological journey in the website references. See also my earlier Post : Origins of the words Aztec and Mexico

I stumbled across this text purely by luck. In response to a readers comments regarding tequesquite (1) being used as an ingredient in an 1844 recipe for puches (puchas)(2) I searched for a recipe containing the keywords “tequesquite” and “puchas” and found this gem. I also now have another book to add to my Wish List.

  1. See Post : Tequesquite
  2. puchas (puches) is a recipe listed in the same category as atoles and mazamorras. Atoles are a thick (or thin, as you desire) masa based drink/”gruel” and mazamorras are a type of corn based “custard/pudding”. I have an upcoming Post planned for Atoles. Keep an eye out for it.

Quelite. Esta voz viene de la Mejicana quilitl, que significa yerba comestible en general; pero ya es comun designar con ella la yerba que llaman los Mejicanos quilhuaqui (1) o yerba enjuta (2) o seca, a causa de un polvillo seco que tiene en la nacimiento de las hojas, que es colorado, y conocemos con el nombre de quelite.

De la misma palabra se driva la otra compuesta quilmulli (3), que significa quisado de yerbas, y viene la otra clemole (4) que usamos malamente para designar los guisados con chile colorado. Los quelites admiten todos los guisos de las espinacas o acelgas, y salen mas sabrosos si despues de cocidos y fritos los quelites, se les ananden pedazos de chile ancho.

Sirven también los quelites para rellenar pescados, aves, quesadillas, peneques (5), envueltos, etc.

Quelites Fritos. Despues de quitadas las raices y lavados los quelites, se ponen a cocer con un poquito de agua de tequesquite asentado; en seguida se pone una cazuela a la lumbre con manteca y se frien en ella xitomates (6) maduros, picados groseramente, cebolla y ajos; se echan alli los quelites despues de lavados en una poca de agua, y unas rajas de chile ancho; se sazonan con un poquito de sal fina, y cuando esten bien fritos se sirven con rebanadas de pan frito en manteca.

Quelites Blancos (7). Despues de cocidos los quelites como se dijo en el articulo anterior, se lavan en una poca de agua fria. Se pone una cazuela en la lumbre con manteca, y en el ella se frie bastante cebolla picada y ajo; cuando haya frito bien, se echa agua, se ponen alli los quelites cocidos y despues se muelen unos clavos, pimienta y cominos, y se les ananden papas cocidas y rebanadas, garbnzos deshollejados bien cocidos, y unos camarones o algun otro pescado, y se deja todo sazonar, para servirse con rebanadas de pan tostadas en manteca.

  1. quilhuaqui – the etymology of this word is quite interesting (and meandering). It does not exist in any of my Nahuatl dictionaries as “quilhuaqi” but it is most certainly quelite (quilitl) related and leads me toward the Nahuatl word for amaranth “huauhtli” through quiltonil (quintonil/quintonilli).
    quil yollotli. – Principal English Translation: – a bud on a vegetable plant that has not yet sprouted (Molina)
    quilchiuhqui. – Principal English Translation: – a vegetable gardener (Molina)
    quiltonil. – Principal English Translation: greens, vegetables (Karttunen) – Orthographic Variants: quiltōnīl huaqui. – Principal English Translation: – something dry (noun); to become lean; to wither; to dry up, to dry out (Molina)(Karttunen)
    This progresses to………huauhquilitl. – Orthographic Variants: – uauhquilitl – uauhquilitl. cenizos, o bledos.(Molina) and HUĀUHQUIL(I)-TL wild amaranth, greens which are boiled and eaten as a vegetable (Kartunnen) : Quintonil – also known as bledo (bledos), quelite blanco (Coahuila; Oaxaca; Sierra Norte de Puebla; Veracruz), iztaquilit (Nahuatl, Sierra Norte de Puebla ; IZTĀC = something white (quelite blanco?))(Kartunnen). From the Nahuatl quiltonilli , which derives from quilitl , edible herb, and tlatotonill , something that is sunny or heated in the sun. Name given to various species of quelites in different parts of the country. They are annual, erect and reddish herbs that measure an average of 70 cm in height, with alternate petiolate leaves that are ovate in shape and have a smooth edge. They are inexpensive, grow on the roads of Mexico and as weeds in farm fields, although some species are cultivated. All species are very similar to each other and the most common are: Amaranthus hybridus (centre), Amaranthus palmeri (northeast), Amaranthus retroflexus and Amaranthus blitoides (north and centre) and Amaranthus cruentus (centre and south). In the Sierra Norte de Puebla, its stems and tender leaves are mainly consumed raw, fried, in broth, steamed and in different stews for tacos. They also serve to accompany other foods. In this region it is called white quintanil (although it is green) to differentiate it from the red quintanil ( Amaranthus hypochondriacus ), which is the same, but with a red or purple hue, and from the pinto quintanil, which has red or purple spots. The importance of quelites in the healthy and nutritious diet of Mexicans is reflected in several ways, for example one of the shades of green in Nahuatl is called quilpali (quelite color). In Cabrera’s Dictionary of Aztecisms (1984), two words appear that include the term quelite: quimole (quilmulli), any stew based on herbs or quelites , and quiltamal, tamale made with quelites ; also quilihuacal which is a special crate or box to transport quelites.
  2. yerba enjuta • yerba : The word hierba is Spanish for “herb”, where the initial “h” is silent; yerba is a variant spelling of hierba used throughout Latin America. Yerba may be understood as “herb” but also as “grass” or “weed”. In Argentina, yerba refers exclusively to the yerba mate plant • enjuta/enjuto (1) adj. Delgado, seco o de pocas carnes. Literal translation – “Thin, dried either (or) from few (little) meats” its meaning however leans towards “skinny, lean, lank”….other translations include (1) enjuto (-a) : scrawny and (2) enjuto de carnes : thin. “Delgado” leads me to one of the thin leaved porophyllums “papalo Delgado” (thin papalo) see Post : Chepiche/Pipicha : Porophyllum tagetoides)
  3. Quilmulli – comida hecha de hierbas o verduras. R quilitl, mulli “food made from herbs or vegetables”(Simeon 1991)……Obsolete spelling of quilmōlli…..From quilitl (“edible herb”) +‎ mōlli (“stew”). (Molina)
  4. clemole – from the Nahuatl word tlemolli , meaning a chile stew or broth – a traditional soup where meat, vegetables and strong flavour elements (possibly epazote) are combined.
  5. Peneques are a street food from Mexico City. They consist of a tortilla filled in with cheese or beans, coated with eggs and flour, then fried and finished with (red tomato) salsa on top (caldillo de jitomate).  ‘Peneques’ first appeared in the history books of Mexico City in the 1800s.  It is said that the first record of the peneques was found in a 19th century recipe book , but experts indicate that its most accurate reference is found in public markets from 1831 and documented until 1888. These were, and still are, sold by the same street sellers that bring hand made tortillas, ‘sopes’, and ‘tlacoyos’ from the towns around Mexico.
  6. Xitomate = jitomate = red tomato
  7. quelite blanco – see references to amaranth under point 1 “quilhuaqui”. Synonyms : Bledo, quelite blanco, quelite bueno, quintonil, quintonil blanco, quintonil grande, quintonile; Distrito Federal: quilitl (náhuatl); Puebla: cal´ unit, ka (totonaco), huauquilitl (nahua), xidha (otomí); San Luis Potosí: kithal toro, je´ pal (tenek).

Papalo delgado (thin papalo) Porophyllum tagetoides

As translated by Google Translate (my additions in BOLD)

Quelite. This voice (word) comes from the Mexican quilitl, which means edible herb in general; but it is already common to designate with it the yerba (herb) that the Mexicans call quilhuaqui or yerba enjuta or seca, because of a dry powder that it has in “the birth of the leaves”(en la nacimiento de las hojas), which is red, and we know it by the name of quelite.

The birth of the leaves
(amaranth sprouts)

From the same word derives the other compound quilmulli, which means squashed herbs (ground herbs – you know – like in a molcajete), and comes the other clemole that we misuse to designate stews with red chili.

Various dishes labelled as clemole

The quelites admit (include) all the spinach or chard stews, and they come out tastier if after the quelites are cooked and fried, pieces of ancho chili are added.
Quelites are also used to fill fish, poultry, quesadillas, peneques, wraps, etc.

Peneques (from rojo to verde)

Peneques rellenos de requesón, pipián de poblano y queso Oaxaca from Mal del Puerco in the CDMX

Fried quelites. After removing the roots and washing the quelites, they are cooked with a little water from the settled tequesquite (in which tequesquite has been dissolved – for more information on this ingredient see Post : Tequesquite); immediately put a pan on the fire with butter and fry in it coarsely chopped ripe (red) tomatoes, onion and garlic; The quelites are thrown there after washing in a little water, and a few slices of ancho chili; they are seasoned with a little fine salt, and when they are well fried they are served with slices of bread fried in butter.
White quelites. After the quelites are cooked, as was said in the previous article, they are washed in a little cold water. Put a casserole on the fire with butter, and in it fry a lot of chopped onion and garlic; When it has fried well, add water, put the cooked quelites there and then grind some cloves, pepper and cumin, and add cooked and sliced ​​potatoes, well cooked skinned chickpeas, and some shrimp or some other fish, and add let everything season, to be served with slices of bread toasted in butter.

The recipe below is from the Institute of Biology at UNAM


  • 1 kilogram (this is a lot) quelite cenizo (ash quelite – see below) – washed
  • 2 litres water
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate (bicarb soda where I come from)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (lard could be used too I guess)
  • 1/2 medium onion (white onion)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Recipe Instructions

  1. se pone a hervir el agua y se le agregan los quelites cenizos y el bicarbonato.
  2. cuando estan cocidos, se dejan enfriar y se exprimen fuertemente hasta formar una bola.
  3. se pone “requemar” la manteca, se le agrega la cebolla para que se acitrone y despues se le agregan los quelites cenizos, desmenuzando las bolas. Se anade la sal y se revuelven.

  1. Bring the water to a boil and add the ash quelites (quelite cenizo literally translates as “ash quelite” – this generally refers to a potherb in the Chenopodium family, a “goosefoot” commonly known as “fat hen” or “lambs quarters”) and bicarbonate.
  2. When they are cooked, let them cool down and squeeze them hard until they form a ball.
  3. “burn” the butter (appears to be the same – in theory – as brown butter, also known as beurre noisette, which is made by cooking unsalted butter long enough to turn the milk solids brown while cooking out any water present in the butter. Often described as tasting nutty or toasty, it has a deeper, richer, more intense flavour than melted or clarified butter), add the onion so that it is acitrone (no literal translation it appears – although the word is related to “acitronar” – to fry until golden brown) and then add the quelites ash, crumbling the balls (desmenuzado from desmenuzar – to crumble/flake/shred or scrutinise/analyse thoroughly). Add the salt and stir.

Quelite cenizo or “ash” quelite is so named because of the grey ashy appearance of the young leaves and the tendency for there to be a soft, ash coloured film on the underside of the leaves.

This herb also fulfils the requirements as noted in the original text above where it is stated that “it is already common to designate with it the yerba (herb) that the Mexicans call quilhuaqui or yerba enjuta or seca, because of a dry powder that it has in “the birth of the leaves”(en la nacimiento de las hojas), which is red (see image below)


  • (author) Anonimo : (1888) Prologue by RIVERA, GUADALUPE : Nuevo cocinero mexicano en forma de diccionario : Publisher Editorial Planeta Mexicana S.A. de C.V. ISBN13 9786077454434
  • Cabrera, Luis. (1984) Diccionario De Aztequismos/Aztec Dictionary (Spanish Edition) ISBN: 978-968-6052-13-8
  • Christensen, M. (2014). Daily Life in Colonial Mexico: The Journey of Friar Ilarione da Bergamo, 1761-1768.
  • Alfred Coester (1925). México or Méjico?. Hispania, 8(2), 109–116. doi:10.2307/331224
    Haywood, E.. (2003). Daily Life in Colonial Mexico: The Journey of Friar Ilarione da Bergamo, 1761-1768. Hahr-hispanic American Historical Review. 83. 580-581. 10.1215/00182168-83-3-580.
  • Hernandez, Francis (1959) [original 1574]. Natural History of New Spain. In: Francisco Hernández, Complete Works, Vol. II. Mexico: UNAM, 476 pp.
  • Frances Karttunen, An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992)
  • Alonso de Molina, Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana, 1571, part 2, Nahuatl to Spanish, f. 155r. col. 1.
  • Alonso de Molina, Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana, 1571, part 2, Nahuatl to Spanish, f. 89v. col. 2.
  • Porra, Miguel Angel. (2007) Nuevo cocinero mexicano en forma de diccionario/ New Mexican Cook: In the Form of a Dictionary REPRODUCCION FACSIMILAR DE LA EDICION PRINCIPE 1888 (Spanish Edition)(Illustrated edition) ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9707019195
  • Ramos de Robles, S. Lizette; Garibay-Chávez, Guadalupe; Curiel-Ballesteros, Arturo (2018). Identification, collection and consumption of weeds and wild vegetables in Mexican communities: institutionalized local ancestral indigenous knowledge as ecological literacy, place and identity. Cultural Studies of Science Education, doi:10.1007/s11422-017-9852-y
  • Simeon, Remi (1991) DICCIONARIO DE LA LENGUA NAHUATL O MEXICANA : 8th Ed. Publisher Siglo Veintiuno XX1 : ISBN 139789682305733



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