About two years ago, I got on an “alternative grains” kick. Quinoa, kamut, spelt, and a whole succession of obscure varieties of flour made their way through my kitchen. I didn’t find good ways to use any of them. (Bland porridge is bland porridge no matter how trendy the grain it’s made from.)
Amaranth is another one of these obscure grains you might be hearing more about in the future: It’s easy to grow in arid environments, yields a lot of grain per plant, and is rich in lots of different vitamins and minerals (especially iron).
The tiny grain was a staple of the Inca diet, and you can boil it to make, well, another of those bland porridges.
But the reason I still have some in my cabinet and am writing about it is the very unique ability it has: Amaranth pops.
And it’s of this property that a wonderful Mexican candy called alegría takes advantage. It’s delicious, really simple, much healthier than other candy (whole grain!), and amaranth is a heck of a lot of fun to pop.
Just heat up a deep pan (I use a medium saucepan) over high heat, toss in a tablespoon or two of amaranth at a time, and shake until almost all the kernels have popped (if they don’t start popping within a second or two of going into the pan, your pan’s not hot enough). They really fly all over the place, so a lid might also come in handy.
After that, you mix the popped grain with a honey syrup and let it set up into crunchy, sweet, nutty bars of Mexican deliciousness.
(Recipe after the jump)
Alegría (Popped Amaranth Bars)
3.5 oz. Amaranth seeds (about 1/2 cup)
4 oz. Honey
Heat a deep saucepan over high heat. When very hot, drop 1-2 tbsp. amaranth into pan, cover tightly, and shake until almost all kernels have popped. Remove popped amaranth to a large bowl, and repeat until all amaranth is popped.
Turn heat to medium, and pour honey and salt into pan. Boil honey for 3-5 minutes and pour over amaranth. Stir until well combined, and pour into a greased 9×9 baking dish. Lightly smooth into an even layer.
Let stand about 10 minutes or until slightly firm, then cut into squares. Let stand until completely cool.
Notes: The longer you boil the honey, the better the bars will hold together (they’ll still be kinda crumbly), but you don’t want the honey to caramelize or burn. You can also add seasonings, like chipotle powder or cocoa powder, to the syrup before stirring into the amaranth.