Like quinoa, amaranth is an ancient, protein-packed seed. The tiny poppy seed-size "grain" was a staple of the Aztecs and Mayans. We must admit that we initially weren't quite sure about amaranth, though. The first time we cooked it for dinner, we expected it to be fluffy like quinoa and were startled when it turned to sticky mush! However, we did like the malty, slightly nutty flavor and were determined to figure out what to do with it.
We discovered that amaranth can be roasted, popped, boiled, and added to other dishes, making it a versatile pantry item. Here are some ways to incorporate it into your cooking:
• As a breakfast cereal. Simmered just right, amaranth has a sweetness and porridge-like consistency that make it a delicious cereal. Use a ratio of 1 1/2 cups liquid to 1/2 cup amaranth. (Yield: 1 1/2 cups cooked.) Place amaranth and water or apple juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on it towards the end and then serve it right away, as it will turn gummy and congeal if overcooked or left to sit. Add fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and/or sweetener.
• Popped. Toast a tablespoon of amaranth seeds a time in a hot, dry skillet. Continually shake or stir until the seeds pop. Eat them as a snack or use them to top soups, salads, and vegetable dishes. We've also heard that popped amaranth can be used to bread tofu or meat but haven't given it a try yet.
• Combined with other grains. When cooked with another grain, such as brown rice, amaranth doesn't overwhelm with its sticky consistency but adds a nutty sweetness. Use a ratio of 1/4 cup amaranth to 3/4 cup other grain and cook as usual.
• Added to soups and stews. Take advantage of amaranth's gelatinous quality and use it to thicken soup. A couple of tablespoons added while the soup is cooking is usually sufficient.
In addition to being a complete protein, amaranth seeds are high in fiber, iron, and calcium. The plant's spinach-like leaves are also edible.
(Image: Emily Ho)