Produce of the Week - Amaranth
sponsored by Coleman Farms
There's talk about Amaranth in some of today's links that sounds like something from The da Vinci Code, and which I can't vouch for. The nutritional, culinary and botanical information is sound, though: Amaranth is another product of indigenous American agriculture, and one with special nutritional and cultivational properties which have caused it to be adopted by cuisines in large parts of Africa and Asia.
Amaranth is very hardy, tolerating heat and drought well, and putting up with cold, if not freezing, weather. Furthermore, it produces masses of seed and tends to be self-propagating: plant it once and grow it forever. It is also versatile. The genus comprises a number of species. The ones most likely to be cultivated are optimized for greens, seed, or bloom, respectively. They are, however, similar enough that the leaves of all can be used for greens, and the blooms in bouquets.
Amaranth - greens and grain - contain useful or high levels of a variety of vitamins and minerals, but what makes them special nutritionally is their protein. Not only do both greens and grain contain high proportions of protein, but their protein includes lysine, an essential amino acid rarely found in plant matter. This makes Amaranth a particularly valuable component of a diet which is meat free or largely so, either out of choice or necessity, and is one of the major reasons for the plant's broad cultivation. In the pre-Columbian diet, a meal containing amaranth, maize and beans supplied complete protein, allowing the guinea pig, turkey or tapir to live another day. One of our links mentions adding blanched (and pulped?) leaves to corn masa for tortillas.
So after this build up, what does it eat like? The taste is a bit like Tuscan Kale (Cavolo Nero) in its richness and 'green'-ness, but with no hint of sulpher and overtones of carrot and hazelnut. The texture, too, is like kale - much more robust than spinach, firmer than cooked cabbage.
Preparation is easy. While Amaranth is tough enough to withstand longish cooking, in soups or curries, for example, it's tender enough to be useable after a brief blanching, when it's suitable as a component of a warm salad or as a serving bed, or over pasta. It's flavor and texture make it suited to mixing with other steamed or stirr-fried greens, and it could be useful in juicing. The robust flavor of Amaranth should make it suited, like Kale for mixing with a tougher crowd, and I think a mix of Amaranth greens together with some root vegetables - beets (along with their greens), carrots, garlic and onions, and maybe some tomatoes, seasoned as you like (chiles, ginger, fenugreek and cumin...) would be very nice baked slowly in a covered cassarole, possibly on a bed of amaranth grain.
www.ibw.com.ni (see #6)
today's photo courtesy of Caribbean Seeds