According to my Wholegrain Diet Miracle book, amaranth was an Aztec favourite, but it gained unfortunately bloody associations as it was mixed with (human) blood and honey as part of religious ceremonies. The Conquistadors banned it in an effort to end human sacrifices, and it faded from view. Now it's getting more popular again: it's very high in protein, high in lysine, iron and fibre. It also contains blood cholesterol lowering forms of Vitamin E, linoleic acid - a good fatty acid - and it's gluten free. So, all that set out for Eco Sis to insert medical rejoinders, I set out to look for some recipes.
You can boil amaranth like millet, but it becomes quite sticky and sweet. The first time we ate it I boiled it, mixed it with some yogurt and herbs, and served it with grilled vegetables (adapted from a chicken recipe in Wholegrain Diet Miracle). That was the *interesting* dish I mentioned the other week - it was quite nice, but a bit odd, and a bit too goopy to make an attractive photograph. I found myself wanting to boil it more to make it drier and fluffier - or couscous in other words! We both thought that it would make a nicer dessert pudding and filed the recipe under 'strangely ambivalent'.
The second time, I searched around on the internet and found a recipe for potato and amaranth cakes on the Guardian's website by Yotam Ottolenghi. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks had talked highly of his cookbook so I thought it could be a winner for flavour without being too odd. The amaranth forms a coating to a spicy potato mash cake - always a winner for The Scientist. The amaranth in this recipe was popped, so I heated it in a dry pan to get it popping. Probably about two thirds of it popped and the other third got nicely toasted, and I had a lot of fun squeaking every time a grain popped and became a much prettier little white bubble. The recipe also calls for toasting various spice seeds and crushing them which made me feel like a real pro as well, and made nice aromas waft around the kitchen. They get mixed into some mashed potato, formed into patties, coated in the amaranth, and fried.
The verdicts? The Scientist liked this recipe, which we had with corn on the cob, some quick mango relish, and some home-grown salad leaves. Mashed potato is his favourite form of carbohydrate, and he thought that the amaranth gave the outside a nice crunch. It also went nicely with the fruity relish (Ottolenghi gave a recipe for a limey mapley dressing but I fancied something simple and fruity. I've copied his dressing out below). I liked it as far as a potato cake went, but I'm not really a huge fan of so much stodge without more zingy ingredients. These cakes did have a nice variety of spices in them but I still found them a bit bland. I think I just don't get on too well with potato cakes. Still, the amaranth was nice and crunchy and I was pleased to think that I was eating something so nutritious. I still have a lot of amaranth left, so I need to find a few more uses for it yet. I have a couple more up my sleeve to let it show its variety - if nothing else we know we can turn it into some puddings!
Potato and amaranth cakes (Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian)
4 potatoes (about 800g)
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 tsp salt
30g popped amaranth [dry fry it to make it pop; some will toast rather than pop]
200ml vegetable oil, for frying [I used a lot less than this though using more would probably make the cakes moister]
For the sauce [which I didn't make!]
juice of 4 small limes (80ml)
40g maple syrup
3 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
2 tbsp parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
10g ginger, roughly chopped
2 tbsp veg oil
2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 mild chilli, deseeded and chopped
First make the sauce. Place the lime juice and maple syrup in a small saucepan, bring to a light simmer and reduce for about five minutes until the consistency of runny syrup. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a blender and work to a smooth paste. Taste: it should be sweet and sharp. Adjust for salt. If very thick, add more water, then set aside.
Peel and quarter the potatoes. Place in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, gently fry the onion in oil until golden brown. Dryfry the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds in another pan over medium heat until they release their aromas, then grind to a powder in a mortar. Drain the potatoes, place in a bowl and gently mash. Add the onion, spice powder, coriander, chilli and salt. Mix well, and add salt to taste.
Use your hands to make small patties, roughly 5cm in diameter and 0.5cm thick. Spread the amaranth on a plate and press patties lightly on to it to cover both sides well. Heat up the oil and shallow-fry the patties, a few at a time, until crisp and golden on both sides. Transfer to a kitchen towel to soak up the oil. Serve warm with the sauce on the side