Are you familiar with amaranth? We’re going to go all amaranth this month! Perhaps you’ve used it in breakfast porridge, or granola, maybe even a smoothie. Puente a la Salud Comunitaria is a grass-roots organization working primarily in the indigenous state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Its focus is on farming, consumption and commercialization of amaranth.
A highly nutritious cereal crop native to Mexico, amaranth is easy to grow, drought tolerant and very adaptable. It also has significantly more protein, calcium and iron than many other cereals like oats, wheat and rice – and bonus points for the leaves being completely edible as well, containing higher levels of calcium and Vitamin C than spinach. As if that wasn’t enough to praise its glories, amaranth also has a higher market value than other crops, and therefore farmers can earn considerably more growing amaranth than other grains.
So how can we use it in ways other than as a breakfast cereal? We are going to adapt some recipes with a Mexican flavor and add in some protein-packed amaranth. In recipes calling for quinoa, you can mostly swap out the quinoa and use amaranth instead without any noticeable differences in recipe outcome.
How about Stuffed Mexican Peppers for an easy make ahead potluck dish? Use red bell peppers for the prettiest dish and a mellower flavor. It’s up to you as to what type of ground meat you will choose, but I highly recommend ground lamb. It’s what I used. Lamb has a bit of sweetness that goes well with the peppers.
Amaranth Cakes are fun little nuggets that you might serve for an appetizer, along with a chipotle mayo (they almost taste a bit like falafel in my opinion), and Black Bean, Yam, and Amaranth Burritos would be a great choice for a vegetarian dish.
And since Oaxaca is the center of chocolate production in Mexico we must honor their devotion to chocolate with a batch of Mexican Chocolate Brownies. If you’d like to get in on the amaranth craze with these brownies you can substitute up to 20 percent of amaranth flour for wheat flour in any recipe.
Mexican Stuffed Peppers (Tested)
Serves 8 to 10
1 tbsp. oil
½ cup each, diced carrot, celery, and onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound ground meat (beef, turkey, or lamb)
1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled, and chopped (optional)
1 ¼ cups whole canned tomatoes, crushed by hand, with juices
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. chili powder
½ cup amaranth seeds
4 large or 5 small bell peppers, red or green, cut in half vertically, with seeds and membranes removed
1½ cups grated cheddar cheese
Turn oven on to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté the diced vegetables for 5 minutes, until they begin to soften and take on a little color.
Add the ground meat and chop with a wooden spoon to break up until it is finely crumbled. If there is too much fat left in the pan go ahead and spoon some of it off.
Add the poblano chile, if using, and the crushed tomatoes, salt, and chili powder. Simmer for a couple of minutes to break down the tomatoes and reduce just a bit.
Next add the amaranth seeds and ½ cup of water. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. If the meat looks too soupy at this point, simmer for another couple of minutes with the lid off to reduce. Remove from heat and taste for any additional seasoning that it may need.
Place the pepper halves in an oiled baking dish large enough to accommodate all of them, and fill the shells with the meat mixture. Pour about ¼ cup water into the bottom of the dish, and drizzle the peppers with olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the foil, top with the grated cheese. Turn up the oven to 400 degrees and place the peppers back into the oven for another 15 minutes.
Serve with the juices that have accumulated in the baking dish. Steamed rice and black beans would be a good accompaniment.
Recipe credit: Linda McElroy
Photo credit: alanagPkelley – originally posted to Flickr titled Orzo Stuffed Peppers. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.