Thursday, July 7, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Amaranth Greens

by: Andrea Yoder

Amaranth greens could be called one of our own “super-foods.” While I’ve never sent a sample to the lab to test nutrient levels, we know greens in general are packed with nutrients and foods with vibrant colors are such because of the antioxidants and phytochemicals in them. So I introduce to you the beautiful, deep red amaranth, the cooking green in your box this week!

The variety of amaranth we grow is referred to as “Polish Amaranth.” We purchased the seed from Wild Garden Seeds (WGS), which is kind of funny because Richard is the one who actually gave them the seed originally! The story goes like this… day Richard was driving to La Crosse and saw this beautiful red amaranth growing in a garden along the way. He stopped and asked the people who lived there about this plant. They said their Aunt May brought the seed with her from Poland and they were happy to share it with Richard. So Richard collected some seed and started growing it, mostly as a baby green to mix into his gourmet salad mix.  It didn’t do so well as a salad mix ingredient, but in later years we found success growing it as a mid-summer bunching green used for cooking. Since we aren’t in the business of seed production, Richard passed the seed onto Frank Morton at WGS and he has been maintaining this variety of amaranth.  Thanks Frank!
While many greens, such as lettuce and spinach, struggle to thrive during the heat of the summer, amaranth grows in all its glory.  As a more mature bunching green we recommend enjoying it as a cooking green for optimal flavor. The stems are often tender enough to be eaten as well, just finely chop them and cook them alongside the greens. Amaranth can be simply boiled, steamed or sautéed with garlic and onions for a super-simple preparation. It also pairs well with other summer vegetables such as zucchini, green beans, corn, tomatoes, basil, etc. Amaranth is similar in flavor to spinach, except better!
Amaranth is thought to have originated in Central and/or South America, but has made its way around the globe. It can be found in Europe, Asia and the Americas, which means there are many options for finding ways to use this vegetable. It pairs well with beans, cumin, coriander and oregano for more of a Mexican approach. Stir-fry it with garlic, onion, ginger and a drizzle of sesame oil for more of a Chinese influence. Mix it with pasta, tomatoes, oregano, basil and Parmesan for an Italian flair, or take it in more in the direction of Indian cuisine by choosing curry spices & lentils (see this week’s recipe). We hope you enjoy this lovely green, for its aesthetics, nutrition, history and flavor

Red Lentil Soup with Amaranth Greens  
Yield:  4 servings

2 Tbsp ghee or sunflower oil
¾ cup finely diced onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp red curry paste
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 ½ cups red lentils
6-7 cups water
½ bunch cilantro, leaves and stems separated
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 bunch amaranth greens
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Yogurt, for serving (optional)

1.    Heat ghee or sunflower oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute just until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes. 
2.    Add the curry paste, turmeric and mustard seeds. Continue to saute, stirring frequently, for several more minutes until the mustard seeds are fragrant. Add the lentils, 6 cups of water, and 1 ½ tsp salt. Bring to a simmer.
3.    Separate the leaves of cilantro from the stems. Mince the stems finely and add them to the soup.  Coarsely chop the leaves and set aside to use as a garnish when serving the soup.
4.    Continue to simmer the soup, uncovered, stirring frequently. Simmer until the lentils have disintegrated into a soft texture and are thick. You may puree the soup at this point if you want it perfectly smooth, or may leave it as is. Adjust the thickness of the soup to your liking by adding an additional cup of water if needed.
5.    Prepare the amaranth greens by separating the leaves from
      the stems. Roughly chop the greens into bite sized pieces. You should have about 4-5 cups of greens. Finely mince the remaining stems.You may choose to discard the lower portion of the stems that are thicker.
6.    Add the amaranth to the soup and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for another 5-8 minutes or until the greens are wilted and tender. Season the soup with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt if needed. 
7.    Portion the soup into bowls and serve along with optional (but highly recommended) garnishes including chopped cilantro, yogurt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Recipe adapted from a similar recipe featured in Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetable Literacy.

No comments: