Special for Savor the Southwest, Sept 2018
Jacqueline Soule here to close National Honey Month with a sweet way to use honey plus a summer growing plant – amaranth. This article also tells how to make a treat for Dia de Muertos.
Amaranth is famed as one of the staple foodstuffs of the Incas, but it was used by many other people around the globe, including here in the Pimería Alta. Amaranth was and still is popular throughout Mexico for a number of drinks and foods. The greens can be used in a number of ways (as the Backyard Forager mentions), and so can the seeds. To this day, amaranth seeds are popped much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or other syrup to make a treat called alegría, which means joy in Spanish.
Popping Amaranth for Alegría
Easiest is to purchase puffed amaranth cereal, but if you’ve grown your own seed, or foraged for wild seed, you will have to pop your own.
* The trick to popping amaranth seed is a cast iron skillet or wok with a tight-fitting lid.
* Heat the lightly oiled pan nice and hot.
* When you think the pan is hot enough, add one single tablespoon of amaranth and close the lid immediately. If it doesn’t start popping, your pan wasn’t hot enough.
* Within a minute of adding the tiny amaranth seeds, the popping will slow down. Swirl the pan a little to pop any un-popped seeds.
* Once the popping dies down, quickly shake the puffed amaranth into a bowl, and then make more.
* Oil the pan as needed, and repeat this process until you have enough popped seeds (2 cups for this recipe). Don’t be tempted to add too much seed at one time, or you’ll end up with too many un-popped seeds.
A very enjoyable gluten-free treat.
2 cups popped amaranth
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons light molasses or dark corn syrup (or more honey)
3 tablespoons butter
* Combine honey, molasses and butter in a large saucepan or skillet; bring slowly to a boil.
* Cook over medium heat five to seven minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture turns golden brown and becomes thick and sticky. I have never used a candy thermometer, but I estimate this mixture will be 325 degrees or more.
* Remove from heat and add the popped amaranth. Stir until amaranth is coated with the syrup.
* Transfer to 9 X 9 or 9 X 13 inch pan that has been lined with parchment or waxed paper. Or just pour it out on a cooled marble slab (not wood, it will stick). Gently push mixture into corners of pan – NOT with your fingers, it is hot! use a spatula or wooden spoon.
* Let cool, then cut into bars.
* Alternatively, when it is cooled but not set, place in sugar skull molds to make the ancient Dia de Muertos skulls.
To learn more about Dia de Muertos, come by my free lecture at the Main Library at noon on October 30.
Want to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol, $14.95).
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