Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Mediterranean Way to Eat: Grains - Part 7

Amaranth grain has a long history in Mexico and is considered a native crop in Peru. It was a major food crop of the Aztecs, and some have estimated amaranth was domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. Like the Incas, the Aztecs used the grain, which is actually a seed, as part of their Pagan ceremonial worship practices.

When Cortez and his Conquistadors landed in the New World in the sixteenth century, they immediately began attempts to convert the Aztecs to Christianity - just as they did with the Incas.  In doing this, they outlawed foods involved in “heathen” festivals and religious ceremonies, amaranth included.  Severe punishment was handed to anyone found growing or possessing amaranth.[1]

Although the Aztecs made it popular,  the word actually amaranth comes from the Greek word amarantos, meaning "unwithering". The word was applied to amaranth because it did not soon fade, and so symbolized immortality. The current spelling of amaranth, seems to have come from folk etymology that assumed the final syllable derived from the Greek word anthos ("flower"), common in botanical names.

Although there are 60 species and often considered weeds, also known as  herbs, people around the world value amaranth as a leaf vegetable, cereals, and ornamental plants. Both spinach and lambsquarters are in the same amaranthus plant family. It is related to pigweed, the enemy of many farmers. The weedy amaranth types are also edible and taste much like the cultivated varieties. A handful of amaranthus varieties are cultivated in different parts of the world. Sometimes local farmer's markets will offer bunches of amaranth greens, but they don't keep long, so you'd have to use them quickly. It's much easier to grow amaranth and cut it as needed, [2] and this would also allow you to harvest the seed from the pods.

The most common usage for Amaranth is to grind the seed into a flour for use in breads, noodles, pancakes, cereals, granola, cookies, or other flour-based products. This gluten-free grain can be popped like popcorn or eaten like oatmeal. More than 40 products containing amaranth are currently on the market in the U.S.[3][4]

When it comes to nutrients, amaranth is rich in the amino acid lysine, calcium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and a good source of vitamins A, B6, K and C, a well as folate and riboflavin. Some studies have even found that amaranth may even help prevent gray hair. Like spinach, it contains a moderately high level of oxalic acid, which inhibits much of the absorption of calcium and zinc. Amaranth should be consumed in moderation by those with diseases such as gout, kidney problems or rheumatoid arthritis. [4]

When simmered, amaranth turns into a porridge-like texture. To cook, bring 3 cups water or broth and 1 cup seeds to a boil; cover and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. It can also be combined with other grains if you desire a more "rice-like" dish, and it can be popped in a skillet like popcorn, as mentioned before. It has a nutty flavor and crunchy texture.

 (YouTube link)

Amaranth Breakfast Recipe

Amaranth Hot Cereal
1/2 cup amaranth
1 cup water
6 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoons honey or 2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Mix the water and amaranth in water, then bring to boiling.
  2. Reduce to medium - low and simmer. Stir frequently until all the liquid is cooked through and tender. Don't allow it to get too dry.
  3. Add honey, cinnamon, and milk, then serve.
Variation: Additionally, stir in cherries, walnuts, maple syrup, nutmeg, and butter. 

Recipe source
Variation source

Related Post
Foraging for Lambsquarters 
The Mediterranean Way to Eat: Grains - Part 1
The Mediterranean Way to Eat: Grains - Part 2 (Quinoa)
The Mediterranean Way to Eat: Grains - Part 3 (Bulgur)
The Mediterranean Way to Eat: Grains - Part 4 (Freekah)
The Mediterranean Way to Eat: Grains - Part 5 (Farro) 
The Mediterranean Way to Eat: Grains - Part 6 (Semolina aka Couscous)

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