I was explaining to a client the benefits of whole grains and was showing a list of whole grains to try.
“Amaranth, what is that?” she asked.
I stumbled a bit. I know amaranth – in some ways more than other grains. It’s the one grain I can recognize without a doubt when I see it growing – the long, magenta “muppet fur” tail is a dead giveaway. I knew it to be originally from South America. And I knew it was a small grain – smaller than millet and more often found in a mix of grains than as a featured solo.
But what did it taste like? I couldn’t tell her. What made it special? (It looks like Muppet fur!) I drew a blank.
Now motivated to be more informed, I turned up a little information and a recipe featuring the unobtrusive, easily dismissed amaranth.
Amaranth is, in fact, another ancient South American grain (It was also a featured crop halfway around the world in the Himalayas). It was a staple of the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans. Like quinoa, it all but disappeared in the region after a Spanish ban enforced by the Conquistadors. The Aztecs mixed amaranth with honey, shaped it like gods and ate it in ceremonial rituals. The similarity between this ritual and Catholic communion was too eerie for priests, thus the grain was banned for centuries.
Amaranth is rich in calcium, B-vitamins, vitamin C and antioxidants. It is also a source of harder to find minerals such as copper and manganese. Like quinoa, it is a rich source of easily digestible protein and also contains a good amount of fiber.
For more information on the rich history of amaranth, visit wikipedia.
Amaranth recipes are not easy to come by. The recipe below comes from Vegetarian Times. While it is a hearty fall stew, our recent bout of cool weather may be suitable enough to try out a test batch.
Amaranth Corn Chowder
Vegetarian Times Issue: March 1, 2000 p.48
- 6 cups Vegetable Stock or vegetable broth
- 2/3 cup uncooked amaranth, rinsed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 4 cups fresh or frozen corn
- 1 tsp. canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
- 2 Tbs. umeboshi vinegar
- 1 Tbs. umeboshi paste
- 1 Tbs. tamari or reduced-sodium soy sauce
- Cilantro sprigs and lime slices for garnish
- In large pot, combine stock, amaranth and bay leaf and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in large heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add cumin and stir 30 seconds. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, bell pepper and oregano; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups corn, chipotle and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Stir corn mixture into amaranth mixture. Cover partially, increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf.
- Preheat oven to 450F. In small bowl, combine remaining 2 cups corn, 1 teaspoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in freshly ground pepper. Spread in nonstick baking pan and roast until beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.
- Remove soup from heat. Stir in roasted corn, chopped cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, umeboshi paste and tamari. Transfer to blender or food processor (in batches if necessary) and puree until almost smooth, or puree directly in pot with immersion blender. Let stand, covered, at least 30 minutes before adjusting seasonings.
- Rewarm over low heat. Ladle into bowls, garnish with cilantro sprigs and lime slices and serve.