Friday, February 21, 2014

Not your Italian grandmother's risotto

As you might remember, the Chef and I have been exploring new grains- trying some of the ancient grains that have been around for many many years. Some of them have become trendy, like quinoa, and some have remained a little obscure. They definitely aren't easy to find in most supermarkets. I've had to really hunt them down!

Today we're going to get to know the grain Amaranth. Amaranth has been grown by people for about 8,000 years. That's definitely an ancient grain if you ask me. The Aztecs ate amaranth as one of their staple foods, and often used it in religious ceremonies. It also is very popular in Mexico and is considered a native crop in Peru.

Today amaranth is grown commercially and also grows wild, known as pigweed, although pigweed generally is not eaten as a food crop. Because it does well in poor soil and less than ideal conditions, it's a very profitable crop, and continues to gain popularity as people change how they look at their food and explore different food sources. It's very high in calcium, iron, magnesium and other nutrients. And PROTEIN- amaranth is probably the grain highest in protein. It also may help lower cholesterol in the blood. Who doesn't want that ? And, it's gluten-free, which makes this healthy grain option available to a lot of people who cannot eat other grains. Sheesh, I sound like a text book, don't I?

Now let's get to cooking this grain. There are lots ways to prepare amaranth- it can be "popped" and used in recipes like that, cooked like a hot cereal, and many other uses. We are going to cook our amaranth in a risotto-style dish, with lots of mushrooms, herbs, and deliciousness.

Amaranth Risotto with Leeks and Mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
2 leeks, cleaned, chopped
2 tb olive oil or butter
1 cup amaranth
salt, pepper
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Heat butter or oil in heavy saucepan. Add mushrooms and leeks and cook until leeks are wilted and mushrooms are softened. Stir in the amaranth. Add stock to pot (starting with 1 cup). Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Stir well and add seasonings. Continue simmering, covered, until the mixture is creamy like risotto and the amaranth is tender, about 10 more minutes, stirring once in a while to prevent sticking and burning. Add a splash more stock at a time if needed. If you like richer, creamier consistency, stir in a couple tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle with additional thyme if desired before serving.

NOTE: Amaranth is done when it is tender but still has texture- it shouldn't be too mushy but shouldn't taste gritty either.

We served our amaranth risotto with beautifully fresh fillets of lake-caught fish with a splash of lime juice and herbs. Since we live in the Little Lake House we have an abundance of fresh fish almost year-round. Some roasted fresh asparagus with a sprinkle of olive oil and sea salt.

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