Although it is known to most Midwestern farmers as pigweed, amaranth is a cosmopolitan genus – found all over the world and valued as a nutritious and delicious food.
In West Africa, it is known as efo tete or arowo jeja ("we have money left over for fish"). In the Caribbean, the leaves are called callaloo and are sometimes used in pepperpot soup. The plant is also a popular vegetable in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, India, Vietnam and China, where it is used as a stir fry vegetable called yin choi (苋菜) and also as a medicinal plant for curing infections, rashes, and migraines. In East Africa amaranth leaf is known as mchicha ("a vegetable for all") and is sometimes recommended for people having low red blood cell counts because it is very high in iron. It is also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.
The magnificent burgundy-colored Hopi Red Dye amaranth pictured above was used by the Hopis to produce ceremonial red cornbread. The young plants also make delicious steamed greens, and their leaves can be added to a salad mix, as Henry has done with the mesclun the past few weeks. In addition, many native peoples grind the seeds into a high protein, gluten-free flour. The Golden Giant amaranth is a variant of the Red Dye amaranth.
Man at length stands in such a relation to Nature as the animals which plucks and eat as they go. The fields and hills are a table constantly spread. . . . They seem offered to us not so much for food as for sociality, inviting us to a picnic with Nature. We pluck and eat in remembrance of her. It is a sort of sacrament--a Communion--the not forbidden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to eat. --Henry David Thoreau, Autumnal Tints, 1862.
Amaranth greens can be cooked just as you would spinach, and are excellent in simply boiled or sautéed on their own, or used in quiches, lasagna, or any other wayyou like spinach. Don’t worry about the big stems, they cook down just as nicely as the leaves, without any stringiness or woodiness.
1 Tb olive oil
4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 pound amaranth greens, washed, rinsed and sliced into ribbons
Salt & pepper to taste
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, and then add the green onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Then add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the greens, in batches if needed. Cook until soft, stirring often. Season to taste and serve.