I’d only ever seen them in Mexico and, until recently, I thought they were gone from my diet forever, maybe even extinct. These tasty little plants called romeritos used to show up every winter in San Miguel de Allende. Then disappeared. But there they were, back in town this December. First in the Tuesday market and then in the Supermarket Soriana.
They date back to Mayan days, when, due to necessity , diets were almost exclusively vegetarian. They were part of the milpa system where corn, squash, beans, chiles and a few less common plants like romerito were rotated throughout the seasons. Their name is what my grade eight English grammar teacher called a dimunitive, “little rosemary”, but they are only like rosemary in appearance, not at all in taste.
Their Latin name (just in case one reader cares) is suaeda pulvinata and outside of Mexico, they are known, in English, as seepweed. But I don’t think they’re eaten anywhere outside of Mexico. Mexicans class leafy, edible plants such as romeritos as quelites which derives from the Náhuatl language’s quilitl.
Two original sites for harvesting that I’m aware of are Lake Texcoco, to the south of Mexico City and Lake Totolcingo that splashes between the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala. Through late spring to late Fall, the romerito grows underwater, then, as the lakes dry up and become smaller in November, the plants emerge on the shores, only to be submerged again during the rainy season.
So, enough science, enough history, what I’m sure you’re wondering is how they taste. Don Day’s Wife and I, obviously think they’re wonderful. A little sour, salty and citrusey. A lot like baby spinach.
Now most Mexicans eat romeritos in a dish also called romeritos and most people eat their romeritos at Christmas and during Lent. I have never had the dish romeritos because I’ve never seen it on a restaurant menu and because Don Day’s Wife doesn’t make the dish. You see, romeritos includes a mole (in addition, usually, to boiled potatoes, shrimp and nopales) and Don Day’s Wife doesn’t think that “this mole is worth the time it takes to make it”. Plus she won’t let me buy the mole at Molino de Chiles y Harinas Santa Rita because that’s “cheating”.
What Don Day’s Wife does do with romeritos is very simple and, to me, simply irresistible.
The first time I researched romerito, I read that the leaves had to be gently pulled from the stems. “So that’s why they’re not so popular”, I thought. I thought wrong. Because you don’t really need to strip the stems. They’re hardly woody or fibrous or chewy at all.
Don Day’s Wife simply washes them in a sieve and then soaks them in water for a couple of hours to help remove some of the saltiness then adds BacDyn for the last few minutes. She then sautées them in olive oil with a a little garlic and onion for about ten minutes.
The last time we had romeritos was with steak and mashed potatoes, the same way you would serve creamed spinach. They were a perfect accompaniment.
One more good thing about romeritos. If you check the corner of one of the photos that I took in Soriana, you’ll see a price tag with the number 24. That 24 pesos is not for 100 grams but for a full kilo, which makes romeritos one of the best bargains you’ll ever put on a plate.
I found romeritos at the Tuesday market and at Soriana in December and early January. I expect they will be available again there and at other local fruit and vegetable markets in February and March.