Where the Wild Foods Are

All About Lambsquarters (+ A Summer Frittata)

By • June 23, 2014 • 4 Comments

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Foraged vegetables are always more fun to cook. So our resident forager, Tama Matsuoka Wong, is introducing us to the seasonal wild plants we should be looking for, and the recipes that will make our kitchens feel a little more wild.

Today: An abundant, sweet summer weed that won't feel like a pest -- and a frittata to brighten your breakfast.

Although there are four “official” seasons, it always amazes me how nature’s crops are continuously rotating and replenishing. Every month there is some new foraged flavor to discover and look forward to. And as we officially turn the corner into summer, lambsquarters is the crop I am most excited for -- I have been missing it since last year.

Lambsquarters can be easily found growing along the borders of your house, in your vegetable garden beds, lining carefully planted rows of farm crops, or at many a farmers market. I just finished pulling out spring weeds from my weed garden -- they had gone yellow --  and this opened up my summer “crop” of miniature lambsquarters -- hundreds of them! -- to the rain and sunshine.

More: More weeds on your plate means less in the garden -- use that extra space to plant some herbs.  

As far as weeds go, Lambsquarters are one of the best around: In In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan calls them one of the most nutritious plants in the world. While many people think you can't eat lambsquarters after they grow past 8 inches tall, you can actually enjoy them up until they go to seed and become bitter -- simply clip off the top 4 to 6 inches of growth, as well as any tender offshoots that branch out as the plant matures.

Once you know what they look like, lambsquarters are are easy to spot. The leaves have the shape of a goose’s foot -- in fact, they are also know as goosefoot, fat hen, or pigweed, and they belong to the Chenopodium family, which comes from the Greek Cheno (“goose”) and podium (“foot”). This is an ancient plant, eaten the world over since hunter-gatherer times, and related to quinoa. It seems strange that we have mostly forgotten it until now.

More: Rely on lambsquarters' more popular sibling for a week's worth of dinners. 

A distinguishing characteristic of lambsquarters' leaves is a white substance, most pronounced in younger plants, and found at the place where the leaves join the stem. On closer inspection, you will see that this waxy white film covers the leaves, although it’s thicker at the center. It repels water, to the delight of schoolchildren who love to spritz the leaves and see the water bead up -- and to the dismay of chefs who try (and fail) to remove it. This film makes for an unpleasant, grainy texture when lambsquarters are eaten raw. 

Luckily, lambsquarters' leaves undergo a dramatic transformation when you cook them: they soften, their waxiness disappears, and their taste becomes deep and flavorful -- like broccoli rabe, but nuttier and sweeter. They are a perfect complement to the creaminess of eggs and sausage for breakfast -- I like them in this frittata, but they’re also lovely sautéed in oil and sprinkled with salt.

More: If you’re in the New York area, Tama’s lambsquarters are now available through FreshDirect! 

Lambsquarters Frittata

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 to 3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly, preferably with a mandoline
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup lambsquarters tips (the top 4 to 6 inches of tender leaves and stems), roughly chopped
2 to 3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons cream

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Note: When foraging, always choose high-quality landscapes (not next to the highway or on post-industrial or sprayed sites), and make sure to obtain permission if it is not your own yard. If possible, go out with an experienced forager. We assume no responsibility for any adverse effects from misidentification or incorrect use of featured wild plants. For more information and identification advice please consult us at meadowsandmore.com.

Photos by Yossy Arefi

Jump to Comments (4)

Tags: lambsquarters, summer, foraging, weeds, wild foods, frittata, recipe

Comments (4)

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3 months ago Mary Thorpe

Very interesting! Today I a weed caught my eye next to the steps in my flower bed (which has improved soil) and I wouldn't have recognized it as lambsquarters except for the consciousness raising here. I took some photos of the type I typically see growing among the rocks by the side of my vegetable garden and the much larger and lusher leaved plant in the flower bed. Wish I could upload photos. Big difference in size and shape but I'm pretty sure now that they are both lambsquarters. Thanks for the heads up. The weed from the garden does look good enough to eat where the one growing in the rocks just looks like a tough rangy weed I never would have thought of eating!

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3 months ago tama matsuoka wong

Hi Mary, the photos are true and your experience is true also. Lambsquarters is very variable, like many wild plants, they are not cloned for cultivation and will not look the same like a Driscoll strawberry. Some plants are more dusty, some are less, the leaf appearance can be more narrow and pointed or more wide and "goosefoot" looking. For serious ID you should get some good drawings with structural ID, as photos cannot always be the best sources for a perfect "match".

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3 months ago Mary Thorpe

The photo doesn't look like lambsquarters that grow in my garden or in any pictures I've googled- maybe it's the lighting. It has a dusty green appearance in reality.

In response to MicronCat- I saw a recipe for pickled purslane just yesterday. I think I saved it...the link is ridiculously long but you can find it by googling OrganicGardening.com and "6 Veggies You Never Knew You Could Pickle"

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4 months ago MicronCat

I prolly have a boatload of this stuff around, but what I KNOW I have a lot of, is purselane. Anybody got a good recipe?