Romerito, a plant in the Suaeda genus, is one of a number of nutritious sea-blites, wild-growing edible plants that have been consumed in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. Romeritos are commonly served in central Mexico during Christmas and lent, and are most often eaten in mole sauce, but can be prepared in a variety of ways.
Although the romerito plant superficially resembles rosemary in both appearance and name, the two species are unrelated and definitely not interchangeable in culinary use. Romerito is more tender than rosemary, and it is not aromatic. Rosemary originated in the Mediterranean and is used as a seasoning, while romerito is native to North America and is consumed as a vegetable.
What Are Romeritos?
Romeritos fall into the category of what Mexicans call quelites, from the Náhuatl quilitl, which are edible plants or vegetables. They often spring up in agricultural fields in a weed-like manner. These tender leafy-greens have been an important source of nutrients for Mexican farming families at the beginning of each growing season when the cultivated crops such as corn and beans are not yet ready for harvest. Some quelites can be eaten raw, while others, like romeritos, need to be cooked.
In recent decades, the consumption of quelites has declined drastically. This is unfortunate, as they are delicious, versatile, and rich in fiber and nutrients such as minerals (iron and potassium) and vitamins (such as A and C). They are also said to be good for digestive discomforts like constipation.
Although relatively easy to cook, whether sauteed, steamed, or boiled, romeritos are a bit laborious to prep. The fresh leaves must be meticulously picked over, with fibrous stems and any damaged or discolored portions discarded. The clean portions are then rinsed multiple times to wash away any sand or soil particles.
Where to Find Romeritos?
Romeritos generally grow in marshy soil, giving them a somewhat naturally salty flavor. Nowadays the most important area of commercial cultivation of this plant is the southern part of Mexico City, a vast agricultural zone. The plant takes about 60 days to reach maturity, so seeds are sown in October to be harvested in time for the December holidays. The cut romeritos are sold, either by weight or by manojos (handfuls) everywhere from traditional rustic market stalls to modern supermarket produce sections.
Outside of Mexico, romeritos can occasionally be found in areas of large Mexican populations (especially the southwestern United States), but most of us probably won't have easy access to this delicious leafy green. Fortunately, spinach has a similar flavor, color, and texture, so we can still enjoy traditional romerito recipes by substituting fresh baby spinach for the original ingredient.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to real romeritos, plan to take some time to carefully pick over your purchase and thoroughly clean and remove all dirt, and damaged stems. Rinse them repeatedly to ensure that any grit is eliminated.
Since romeritos are naturally salty, do not add additional salt to your dish, but test it before serving and add a small amount if needed.
If no actual romeritos are available, feel free to substitute baby spinach or another similarly mild-flavored leafy green. Remove and discard any tough stems and thoroughly wash and drain the leaves before starting to cook. Cut any large leaves (over 4 inches long) into smaller pieces.
Traditional Recipes with Romeritos
Dishes with romeritos are numerous and filled with flavor. The following list brings you a brief description of the most traditional ways of cooking and eating them:
- Revoltijo: The most traditional way to serve romeritos is in a stew-like dish called revoltijo, which translates loosely as "jumble," presumably because the plated dish looks like a jumble of ingredients. Typically served during religious holidays, it is a somewhat fancy dish. Shrimp pancakes, cooked potatoes, nopalitos (cactus), mole sauce, and romeritos are mixed in a stew and served with white rice, and/or bolillos or bread. Leftover revoltijo can be refrigerated and reheated, although the potatoes and shrimp will most likely take on a somewhat unattractive dark color from sitting in the mole sauce. Make revoltijo with some other Mexican cooking sauce in place of the mole.
- Romeritos a la Mexicana: Dishes with "a la Mexicana" in the name typically consist of ingredients that are the colors of the Mexican flag (red, white and green). In this case, sauteed, diced serrano or jalapeno peppers, diced tomato, diced onions, and romeritos make a side dish to plain meat. Alternatively, simply sauteé some romeritos with diced garlic and chopped onion. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and use it as a side dish.
- Patties: Use your favorite recipe for spinach patties but substitute with romeritos. Serve plain, in mole sauce, or in any Mexican cooking sauce.
- Eggs: Chop your romeritos and sautee with a diced onion. Use as a filling for an omelet, or mix into scrambled eggs.
- Savory pie: Use romeritos in place of spinach or Swiss chard in a phyllo dough in a spanakopita-like creation.
- Pesto: Use romeritos instead of basil to make pesto, for pasta and lasagna, or as a sandwich spread.