One rule about food is that is should never remind one of infectious disease.
The tiny, innocent-looking grain, amaranth, has the unfortunate resemblance, when cooked, to the chicken pox. Y’know those clear pustules that pop and weep? That’s what I was reminded of when I recently cooked up a batch of Amaranth with Peaches and Bananas.
But, I must say that I think part of the problem with amaranth is learning to cook with it. The grain has a tendency to stick to the pot, and it is recommended that it be mixed with another, looser grain, such as quinoa, or cooked in a double-boiler or microwave.[i]
Why bother? Because this tiny grain – the size of a poppy seed – is legendary for its fortifying power. It’s an ancient grain, beloved of the Aztecs, and is now identified as having higher levels of protein, iron, magnesium and phosphorus than some other grains, and has a balance of amino acids that make the proteins more accessible to digestion. In addition, the grain has tremendous taste for its size.[ii]
But the texture part . . . must be dealt with in the kitchen. This is why I think recipes are so important, and in this case, flexibility in the recipe is most preferred. Cooks will need to do their own experimenting to determine the best way to avoid the pox. I found that the recipe I was using called for far too much liquid – a full cup and a half more than is recommended by The Joy of Cooking. Not only do I think that the excess liquid made the porridge too soupy, it took too long to cook. Additionally, the recipe called to use both water and milk (in this case, a nut or soy milk because the recipe was macrobiotic). I tend to hold off on adding milk to my grains until after I’ve finished cooking them – I think they retain their character more and the milk doesn’t have a chance to curdle (which seems to happen more easily with the nut and soy milks).
I am also loathe to add soft fruit until the final minutes of cooking, while the recipe I was following called to add them at the beginning. Big mistake. The result was fruit that turned absolutely snot-like in consistency. Again, I was reminded of the flu-like symptoms that accompanied my own rather intense case of the chicken pox many years ago – not good.
So, did I eat this pile of pox? Yes, yes I did. And it wasn’t horrible. The flavors were good, wholesome, balanced. I like the slightly peppery note of the amaranth alongside the mellow fruit and sweet maple syrup. Almond extract goes well with the peppery-peachiness, too. But, I think a vast improvement could be made by leaving out the milk until the end (instead of cooking it in, I pour it on in my bowl), cutting back on liquid altogether (1 cup of amaranth to 2 cups of liquid) and only adding soft fruits in the final minutes of cooking (peaches, plums, bananas – I might even leave the bananas out until I put the porridge in my bowl. Hard fruits, such as apples and pears, I’d add earlier).
Hopefully, I haven’t inadvertently dissuaded my audience from trying amaranth. If you have an interesting amaranth experience or a recipe, I’d like to hear from you.