By Dori T. Mitchell, RD, LD
TWO "NEW" BODYBUILDING GRAINS FROM THE AZTECS & INCAS
In our new LIFE (Lifestyle Intervention Food and Exercise) program at The George Washington University Lipid Research Clinic, the 10% fat lacto-vegetarian diet challenges us to learn about new foods such as the so-called "rediscovered grains" amaranth (am-a-ranth) and quinoa (keen-wah). Although not technically grains, these grainlike foods provide complex carbohydrates and extra fiber to a low-fat diet, along with a healthy load of protein and other nutrients.
AMARANTH= GOLDEN GRAIN OF THE AZTECS
Amaranth was a staple food of the Aztecs in the sixteenth century. They called amaranth their miracle food and believed that eating it gave them supernatural strength. Amaranth was also, for a time, an essential part of Aztec religious ceremonies. But invading Spaniards, in an attempt to wipe out Aztec religious practices, outlawed amaranth and burned the fields. As a result, amaranth virtually disappeared in the Western world.
Amaranth has long been grown in Sri Lanka, India, China, eastern Siberia and the Himalayas. In the late 1970s amaranth was introduced in the United States and is now being cultivated in all parts of the country.
Amaranth is a small, pale yellow seed from a broadleaf plant. A single head of the plant may provide over 50,000 tiny seeds. This pseudo-grain is considered a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids. It is especially high in lysine, an essential amino acid that is usually found in small amounts of grains. Amaranth is also considered a good source of fiber.
Amaranth cooks quickly and retains its round shape. It has a firm and pleasantly chewy texture, with a slightly peppery, spicy, nutty flavor. Amaranth is often used as an ingredient in flaked cereal, granola mixes, and crackers, as well as in stews and soups. It can also be popped like corn and eaten as a snack or cold cereal (similar to puffed rice but much smaller). For dessert the popped seed can be rolled with honey or molasses to form an amaranth ball, known as "allegria" in Mexico. The seeds can also be sprouted like alfalfa or toasted to produce a nutty flavor. Amaranth flour can be used to make bread or pasta, but must be mixed with a gluten-containing flour, such as wheat, to help it rise.
To cook amaranth, combine 3 cups of water or broth and 1 cup of rinsed amaranth seeds and bring to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Lower heat to a simmer and cover and cook for 25 minutes. The seeds will absorb all the liquid and bind together. Amaranth must be used immediately or the amaranth seeds will congeal. If you add salt, do so after not during — cooking. To rewarm, stir in one-half cup boiling water, cover and cook over low heat until warm, or microwave. This will make 21/2 cups of cooked amaranth. Amaranth can be kept safely in the refrig
erator for one week.
To pop amaranth add 1 tablespoon of amaranth seeds to a dry (no oil added) wok or heavy skillet. A few seeds will pop immediately. Stirring the seeds will prevent scorching. When most of the seeds have popped, quickly remove from heat and empty into a bowl. You will have 3-4 tablespoons of "popped amaranth." Do not pop more than one tablespoon at a time. Popped amaranth has a toasted, nutty flavor and is a fat-free, high-fiber snack
Q N A: "MOTHER GRAIN" OF THE INCAS
Quinoa was a sacred food of the ancient Incas. It originally came from the South American Andes and is now grown in the Colorado Rockies. Quinoa is actually the fruit of an herb in the goosefoot family. Like amaranth, quinoa contains all the essential amino acids and is exceptionally high in lysine. Quinoa contains twice as much protein as rice and barley and is also high in fiber.
Like amaranth, quinoa was used in religious ceremonies. Raw quinoa is tan in color. It has a natural coating that acts as an insect repellent. This saponin coating must be washed off or the cooked quinoa will have a bitter taste. The Incas used the quinoa wash water to wash their hair. The quinoa sold in the United States is usually prewashed, but it is a good idea to rinse the grain again before cooking. The tiny black specs often found in a bag of quinoa are wild quinoa grains that are safe for eating.
Raw quinoa is ball-shaped, while cooked quinoa is light and fluffy. It has a delicate texture and delicious flavor, similar to rice. Quinoa can be used in place of rice, couscous, bulgur or millet in such recipes as stuffings, soups, stews, casseroles, cold salads, desserts and puddings. Like amaranth, quinoa flour can be used to make bread and pasta when mixed with a glutinous flour. Quinoa is also a tasty infant cereal.
To cook quinoa, first rinse it well. Bring two cups of salted water to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan, and stir in l'cup of quinoa. Return to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover tightly, and cook for 12-15 minutes (or until the water is absorbed). Let it stand for five minutes. This makes 31/2 cups of cooked quinoa.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
A terrific new book, The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean by Sheryl and Mel London (Simon & Shuster, 1992), will give you an elaborate description of familiar and newly rediscovered grains and beans. This book is ideal for those looking to expand their food choices. Many recipes can be adapted to low-fat or fat-free cooking. Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease (Random House, 1990) is another book that has a large selection of grain recipes — all made without fat.