I’m always racking my brains on how to make whole grains more fun for our family to eat. As I was going to bed at 3 am one night, an idea struck! If I can make risotto balls (arancini) or quinoa cakes, I can do the same with amaranth! And because amaranth – much like oatmeal – cooks to a sticky consistency, it is a perfect fodder for savoury little cakes or patties!
Let’s talk about amaranth, a bushy plant related to spinach. Although its leaves are used in various Asian and Caribbean countries, its seeds are most commonly used as grains in Western culture. Amaranth played a vital role in the ancient Aztec culture, both in culinary and religious scopes. In fact, the emperor Montezuma collected the grain as tax!
As I was researching, I learned that the Aztecs made amaranth cakes, which symbolized the flesh and blood of their gods. These amaranth cakes were shared in a ritual much like in the Christian communion – a practice that horrified the Spanish, who banned the cultivation of the plant, thus resulting in it almost disappearing, except in a few remote areas of Mexico and the Andes.
Today, the grains are experiencing a revival, as more and more people are extolling the benefits of eating ancient whole grains and going gluten-free. Like quinoa and buckwheat, amaranth’s resumé shows a profile containing a complete set of amino acids, making it a complete protein. Compared to rice, wheat flour, oats, and rye, amaranth has an impressive 30% more protein.
As far as nutritional profile goes, amaranth is a very good source of magnesium and manganese; a good source of phosphorous, iron, zinc, and copper; and it contains a moderate amount of fiber, about 6 grams per cup! The fact that it is gluten-free makes me happy also (this recipe will give you a gluten-free crumb coating version)!
I find amaranth to be an acquired taste due to its strong earthy flavour, although toasting the seeds before cooking is said to mellow out its effect. I also find that adding an “acid” like lemon zest or a distinct spice blend, like curry, puts the earthiness in the background, away from the spotlight.
In my version, I used eggs to bind the mixture, and Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese to make a crispy coating. Of course, you can make these cakes gluten-free by using GF Rice Chex cereal or other GF breadcrumbs! My fried panko-and-Parmesan crust complements the gritty, grainy amaranth inside – making these patties, with their complex texture and flavour, amazingly delicious!
I eat them sometimes with just a squeeze of lemon; other times with a side of aioli; but always with a side salad of bitter baby greens. Truth be told, my older child (she’s 5) pop these eagerly in her mouth like they were chicken nuggets. My younger one (she’s 2) wouldn’t touch this with a 3-foot pole! My husband gave my amaranth cakes a good review, even bigging them up to his brother, so I can conclude that the majority of my family enjoyed this!
- 1 cup (275 g / 6 oz) amaranth
- 2 cups (475 ml / 16 fl oz) water
- ½ onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons Madras-style curry powder
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups (115 g / 4 oz) panko bread crumbs or any gluten-free bread crumbs*
- 1 cup (100 g / 3.5 oz) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley (20 g), finely chopped
- oil for frying, either grapeseed, peanut, or vegetable
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the amaranth in a steady stream, stirring well. Return to a boil and once reached, quickly lower the heat until the water reaches a gentle simmer. Cook covered for 20 to 25 minutes, or according to package instructions.
- In a small pan, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and curry powder to the pan and toast, stirring continuously for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
- When the amaranth is cooked, pour the curry powder mixture to the amaranth and stir until combined. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Let cool until easily handled.
- Slightly whisk one large egg and add to the cooled amaranth mixture.
- In a breading bowl, mix together panko crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Get your wet and dry hands ready for breading.
- With the one you will use as your wet hand, take about a tablespoon or so of amaranth (it will be quite sticky) and drop it into the breadcrumb mixture (it doesn't have to be a perfect ball at this point). Cover the amaranth in breadcrumb mixture with your dry hands.
- Shape into a small ball in the palm of your (dry) hands, then lay it gently on a tray lined with parchment paper. Slightly flatten the ball into a patty.
- Continue this process until all the amaranth is breaded.
- Heat grapeseed (or your choice of) oil in a pan to 375 F (190 C). Make sure you have enough oil to cover at least half the height of your patties.
- Fry one side of the patties until golden, about 45 seconds. Flip the patties and cook the other side for another 45 seconds. Make sure the patties are not too soft. If they are, cook longer, another 10 to 15 seconds per side. Do not overcrowd the pan.
- Remove and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.
- Serve immediately. Can be kept for later, but reheat patties under a broiler.