I don’t go to our farmer’s markets as much as I’d like, but when I do, I always seem to find something new to try. I enjoy dark, green leafy veggies quite a bit, so I’m not a hard sell. One vendor recently noticed me admiring the beautiful magenta color at the center of the larger deep, green leaves lightly filling a bag. “It’s red amaranth,” the young man told me, reaching for the bag I was focused on. “Here, taste it.” And so I did.
Although somewhat like spinach in flavor, amaranth, or what some refer to as Chinese spinach, is more sturdy between my teeth as I chew on it, its flavor somewhat like fresh grass smells like if that makes any sense at all. It’s not sweet, but not pungent, either, and leaves a pleasant, unbitter taste in my mouth.
But I thought amaranth was a grain — isn’t it? And don’t I remember seeing annuals at the nursery with colorful plumes which also somehow reminded me of the tasty greens I was chewing on?
Evidently yes to all above — sort of. It isn’t a true grain, but is referred to as a pseudo-grain. Some varieties are cultivated for the leafy green vegetable, some for seeds to be used much like rice or corn are used. And although I did know that buckwheat and quinoa were very high plant protein sources, amaranth seeds are as well. And, they lack gluten, so that makes them quite beneficial to those who are gluten intolerant.
Historically, amaranth was a staple of ancient Mesoamericans and has been enjoyed in Asia for centuries. Why and how did our culture adapt to eating iceberg lettuce instead? Evidently, amaranth became associated with religious rituals involving human sacrifice, so it was banned by the invading Spaniards who then came to North America.
So that explains how we ended up with ice berg lettuce.
This recipe spices things up a bit, perfect for lunch by itself or a dinner side. Use spinach if you can’t find red amaranth. Your body will thank you.