Alhambra's Sunday Morning Farmer's Market
- A Rose and an Amaranth blossomed side by side in a garden, and the Amaranth said to her neighbour, "How I envy you your beauty and your sweet scent! No wonder you are such a universal favourite."
- But the Rose replied with a shade of sadness in her voice, "Ah, my dear friend, I bloom but for a time: my petals soon wither and fall, and then I die. But your flowers never fade, even if they are cut; for they are everlasting."
Aesop's Fables, The Rose and the Amaranth
Despite the classic fable, amaranth (also known as yin choy, hsien tsai, red spinach) is only just beginning to gain popular in the United States. Already popular internationally, the summer annual weed is — depending on who you ask — is either very beneficial or a major pain.
An under appreciated weedy vegetable with superfood-like nutrition. Sound familiar? Coincidentally, amaranth greens have the same dubious honor as lamb's quarters and purslane, two weedy greens that we have previously reported on. All three of these are considered "pigweeds" — as in foods used for animal fodder.
I picked up a sizeable bag from one of the many stands specializing in Asian veggies at the Alhambra farmer's market (I wish I could be a better guide to which one, but unfortunately every time I asked someone for the name they just replied with "Asian vegetables").
As with any leafy green vegetable, you want to make sure the leaves are crisp and moist but not sopping wet. Discard those that are highly blemished or wilted. Amaranth leaves are typically green on top with flourishes of purple underneath, pass over those that look dull and losing their vibrancy. Also look out for flowering buds, which indicate the plant is already too mature. Whenever in doubt, just take a taste test. Amaranth tastes like a more flavorful version of spinach, with an earthier aroma (think of moist potting soil) and a heartier texture.
Once you bring them home, treat them like you would spinach. Make sure to dry them well if you decide to rinse them right away, otherwise you can take them straight from the market to your fridge for up to a week (or freeze them for longer storage). The entire leaf is tender enough to use whole, but feel free to trim them up if the stems feel tough. Like spinach, younger greens can be used raw in salads, soups or quickly wilted in a hot wok with garlic. Amaranth is commonly used in Indian cuisine, typically in curries/dal recipes such as Thota Kura Peasarapappu. For some more creative uses, Prodigal gardens has a list of amaranth recipes, including quiche, lasagna and even an amaranth cocktail!
Do you have any recipes or tips for amaranth greens? Let us hear them in the comments,or send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org!