Sunday, November 05, 2006

Popcorn of the Gods - WHB

I know people have written about Amaranth before for WHB. As the greens are used in a number of cuisines. Indian. South American. Asian. Maybe not the most widely known type of green, but common enough, none the less.

So I wasn’t really looking to comment on the Amaranth greens.

But in my recent dabblings into various types of whole grains, I stumbled across Amaranth the grain. This caught my eye because of reading about amaranth the green in this forum.

And shortly thereafter, I found some recipes that use both the green part and the grain part of Amaranth to make some surprisingly tasty dishes. The grain is used both whole, popped, and ground into a flour.

Popped! Like teeny tiny pop corn! You have to read the links to see what the Gods have to do with it, but suffice to say they were Aztec Gods.

It’s sort of been the trend lately to create dishes that use many variations of, or different parts of, a given ingredient in one dish. So here comes my contribution to pop cuisine!

The other reason I became more interested in Amaranth the grain is its nutritional value. Offering a much more complete protein than almost any other grain. Putting it on par with Quinoa and Buckwheat. This is of special interest to anyone trying to reduce the amount of animal-derived protein in their diet, whether from health reasons or ethical ones. It’s tough to get sufficient protein from plants alone. So finding one that offers an especially complete array of amino acids and a significantly higher amount of protein per weight is noteworthy.

Plus, it is gluten-free. Which is also of interest to many.

Plus, to be honest, the Quinoa did not get good reviews here. I’ve made it several times, a couple of different ways, and there is always lots left over (a bad sign), and usually that eventually gets tossed (an even worse sign). Nothing against Quinoa, but there is not a tremendous amount of flavor there. The Amaranth solves that problem.

I have included a number of links to Amaranth information below. Since they lay out the history, chemistry and botany of the issue much better than I could, plus a number of interesting sounding recipes, I will leave it at that, and focus on the fun we had with this unique plant.

Except for one tiny comment – if you read the history of this fantastically nutritious grain in the links below, used by the Aztecs for thousands (!) of years, until the religiously fanatical Western ‘explorers’ came and forbid them to eat or grow the stuff, things like that make me wonder that these ‘explorers’ have ended up so unquestioningly celebrated in our history books, and also, what other things of potential value they destroyed in these self-centered fanatical pursuits. But, to the victor goes the spoils, I guess, and this is just a food blog.éingFryingStirFrying-Grains.asp

The Quinoa experiences were the basis of Teenboy’s concerns when he asked me, as I was preparing the Amaranth grain dish for dinner, if this was another of those weird health diet meals. I.e. should he begin a pre-dinner heavy snacking cycle to compensate for the anticipated yucky dinner about to be served? I could offer only vague sympathies, no concrete assurances.

But one try of the Amaranth grain, and I am sold. One hundred percent. It’s good. And even better, it’s fun!

This stuff pops! Into miniature pop corn like stuff. Millions of tiny white puffs flying all over your kitchen if you’re not careful. And it’s both easy and fun to do!

So for fun, I found a few recipes that I combined into one dish that use the Amaranth grain as a whole grain, in its puffed form, and includes the Amaranth greens as well, ending up with Chicken in Amaranth Sauce with Cheesy Amaranth Grits. For , sponsored by .

When you cook Amaranth grain, it mushes up, sort of like corn meal. And makes a sort of grits. So we made cheesy Amaranth grain grits.

The puffed form of Amaranth grain can act as a thickening agent, a flavoring agent, and a decorative garnish. So me made a unique Mexican dish that combines chicken breasts with a spicy sauce based on puffed Amaranth grain, that has the Amaranth greens in it, and has a sprinkle of puffed Amaranth grains on top for both flavor and decoration.

The grits were delicious. The Amaranth grain has a very tasty nutty flavor, not too strong. It eventually cooked into a thick pasty grit. I added a heap of parmesan cheese to it, which thickened it up a bit more, and added a nice complementary flavor. Delicious. We will be making this again.

The chicken dish is based on a sauce that uses the puffed grain as a thickening agent. We first heated a skillet up until it was practically glowing. Then tossed in a tablespoon or so of the tiny grains, and quickly slapped on the lid. The stuffed began popping explosively. And filled the skillet with a layer of white puffy snow. We repeated this procedure a few times to get the two cups of puffed grains we needed. The puffed grains were then combined with chipotle chilies and chicken broth, and processed until smooth. I think you can see in the picture how thick and rich the sauce became.

The Amaranth greens were sautéed with some onions, tomatoes and spices. The puffed Amaranth sauce was added, along with the browned chicken breasts, and everything was left to braise a little, combining flavors and getting thick. Delicious. Popcorn for dinner. Easier than it sounds, very unique in flavors, and an all around wonderful dish. Low fat, full of vegetables, and full of this very enjoyably flavored Amaranth grain.

Chicken in Amaranth Sauce on cheesy Amaranth Grits
From the Web site

Recipe Category: Entree (gluten free)
This dish, and other similar chicken and Amaranth combinations, are also called mole de amaranto and tinga de pollo con amaranto, depending on the part of the country where they are found. Despite its different regional names, the dish always contains chipotle chilies.
Diet Types: gluten free, casein free
Makes 4 servings

4 boneless chicken breast halves, salted to taste
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 large white onions, peeled and cut into thin half-moons
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup Amaranth leaves, or small, young spinach leaves, cut into thin strips
1/2 lb. tomatoes, seeded and peeled
2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo
1 cup puffed Amaranth (recipe follows)
1 1/2 cups well-seasoned chicken broth
Cheesy Amaranth Grits (recipe follows)

Wash the chicken pieces and pat them dry.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté the chicken until just golden brown on both sides.
Remove to a platter; add the onions, garlic and Amaranth leaves to the skillet, and sauté until the onion slices are transparent.
Place the tomatoes, chipotles, puffed Amaranth, and chicken broth in the blender, and purée.
Add the purée to the ingredients in the skillet and cook 10 minutes.
Return the chicken to the skillet and cook until the chicken is just done.
Serve some sauce over each piece of chicken and adorn with a sprinkle of additional puffed Amaranth, if desired.

Cheesy Amaranth Grits
Recipe adapted from various Internet sources by surfindaave
Serves 4 as a side dish

1 cup amaranth grain
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cups chicken stock
Sea salt or tamari soy sauce to taste
1 ½ cups grate parmesan cheese
Hot sauce, if desired
Chopped tomatoes for garnish, if desired

Combine the amaranth, garlic, onion, and stock in a 2 quart saucepan. Boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the grated wheeze and stir well. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil while stirring constantly until thickened. Add salt or tamari to taste.

Stir in a few drops of hot sauce, if desired, and garnish with chopped tomatoes.

Puffed Amaranth
Recipe by surfindaave

Several tablespoons of Amaranth grain

Heat a small skillet with a lid that fits over high heat until it is very hot. Pour one to two table spoons of Amaranth grain into the skillet, cover immediately with the fitting lid, and begin shaking the pan. The popping should begin within a few seconds. As the popping dies down, and before the popped kernels burn, remove the skillet from the heat and pour the popped grain into a heat proof bowl.

Repeat as above to pop as much Amaranth as necessary. Do not crowd the skillet with too much Amaranth each time, or it will steam and not pop. If the Amaranth does not start popping within a few seconds, your skillet was not hot enough (my problem the first time).

The popped Amaranth can be used to thicken sauces, as a topping, in shakes, as a sort of popcorn ball, or even eaten with milk as a cereal. All these recipes are floating around on the Internet.

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Blogger Kalyn said...

Once again a truly amazing contribution. I don't know what your day job is, but I still think you should be writing a cookbook.

3:40 PM  
Blogger chrispy said...

An amazing post. The information and description make me want to hunt down the non green form of this.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Karina said...

Gluten free goodness, indeed! I have been using quinoa lately, but have not tried amaranth. Now, after reading your post, I have no excuse, do I?


Rock on, SurfinDaave

7:47 AM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Kalyn, Chrispy, karina - thanks! So far, the consensus here is that the Amaranth is much tastier then quinoa. Next to try are Amaranth tortillas.

12:06 AM  
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5:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this Blog and these Receipes!!! I live in Ireland, and can only get Amaranth Seeds here, and I grind it into Flour in a coffee grinder. I have been trying to get plain puffs for ages and now I see I can make my own! Thank you for all the helpful ideas. Amaranth is the only 'grain' I can eat, so this makes my life worth living! Bless you and all that you do! Rosa

6:43 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Thanks for all of the great info. I thought I would mention that I ran across a great item that I am trying to duplicate. It is a Peanut-Popped Amaranth Bar, similar to a Planters Peanut Bar. It was great and I am trying to figure out how to make them. Can anyone help me out on this?
Jon Twork

7:35 PM  

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