Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Amaranth- and a Flat Bread/Pizza

"never fading"   
"one that does not wither"


When I began learning about the “ancient grains” I was immediately drawn to amaranth because of its rich worldly history, nutrient density, complex flavor and texture. I hope this tiny grain that packs a lot of nutritional and cultural value will find its way into your kitchen soon. I have included a recipe below that will have you enjoying this lovely gluten free grain in no time.

Not a true cereal grain from a grass, amaranth is a broad leaf vegetable plant with edible leaves and a compact seed head that can be cooked in its whole form or ground into a nutty tasting flour.

Why not a true grain? The Whole Grains Council provides an explanation:

Amaranth isn’t a true cereal grain in the sense that oats, wheat, sorghum, and most other grains are. “True cereals” all stem from the Poaceae family of plants, while amaranth (among others) is often referred to as a pseudo-cereal, meaning it belongs to a different plant species. So why are these interlopers almost always included in the whole grain roundup? Because their overall nutrient profile is similar to that of cereals, and more importantly, pseudocereals like amaranth have been utilized in traditional diets spanning thousands of years in much the same way as the “true cereals” have been.

Our diets are so influenced by our environment and always have been. Throughout history we have learned how to enjoy what grows in our backyard, usually with great nutrition outcomes. Then cultures merge, for better and worse, we gain new foods and sometimes lose the native ones.

Native to Peru perhaps 6000-8000 years ago and a favorite in Mexico, Asia and Africa, Amaranth was considered a “super food” by the Aztecs who were great athletes. Fed to runners and warriors, amaranth was thought to provide large bursts of energy and improve athletic performance. Bushels would be presented each year to Montezuma in cultural ceremonies where it was mixed with honey and blood and pressed into forms of celebrated deities.

From www.puentemexico.org

Unfortunately, Cortez and his conquering armies understood the significance of this food and burned all the amaranth fields to the ground to gain power and perhaps ultimately lead to the demise of the Aztec people. As European crops replaced indigenous ones, amaranth fell out of use.

The leaves of the amaranth plant have provided up to 25% of the protein intake in some African societies. This “poor man’s” food which grows in nearly 50 tropical countries is often the most commonly eaten boiled greens. Because of their commonality and association with poverty some languages use the phrase not worth an amaranth. In the US farmers call it pigweed. And with this reputation, over time, an easy to grow, nutrient rich food is lost from those most in need.  

And while African countries may scorn this complex plant those in the Caribbean revere it using it to make the native dish callaloo, a gumbo like stew or spinach.
Amaranth has it’s place in the Far East. For several hundred years amaranth has been cultivated in the high elevations of India, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and China. Farmers in Hong Kong, for example, grow at least six types: pointed leaved, round leaved, red leaved, white leaved, green leaved, and horse’s teeth. Those in Taiwan grow a type called tiger leaf, which has green leaves with a red stripe down the center. Beautiful, like a rainbow.

Over 60 species of amaranth, ranging from yellow to red to pink, grow in a variety of climates. Check out this  beautiful seed catalog for the range of amaranth plants available to us to grow and enjoy. A friend of mine here in Kansas grew a variety that grew 7 feet tall.

Amaranth is high in protein, particularly the amino acid lysine. In fact, amaranth contains more lysine than quality-protein maize (high-lysine corn) and more methionine than soybean meal.
100g of amaranth, about 3/4 cup, contains about 14 g of protein compared to 7g in rice and 11g in wheat.  And in that same amount of amaranth you’ll get 150mg of calcium, similar to
½ cup of milk,  plus 8 mg of iron. A truly nutrient dense plant food. And gluten free.

Seen in overall perspective, amaranth offers hope to feed properly a malnourished world: those of us with too much and those with out enough. They yield protein and other nutrients efficiently. They afford abundant provitamin A (beta-carotene), a nutrient vital to the millions of malnourished children now at risk of blindness. Local food for all the people.

It is fascinating to explore the life of a particular food: from prolific status for the Aztecs, humble and therefore disregarded in Africa, a weed in the US. Yet look deeper and see the opportunity for an easy to grow, nutrient dense vegetable and grain.

In most cultures you'll find a simple flat bread using accessible flours mixed by hand with no leavening and cooked on some simple or elaborate hot surface. Here is a nice flat bread made of amaranth flour, corn meal and a pinch of salt.

In general baking, add amaranth in small amounts mixed with lighter and less dense flours such as sorghum and garbanzo. When used alone it may present as too heavy and dense. But try these simple flat breads. I have been selling them locally for a few years now. They make a great pizza as you will see below, and a versatile flat bread.

Amaranth Flat Breads

1 cup amaranth flour
1/3 cup corn meal
1/4 tsp salt
About ½ + cup water

Place amaranth flour, corn and salt in a small bowl. Mix to combine. Add water. Mix well until smooth. Add more water or flour to make sticky but manageable dough. Knead for 1 minute. You are looking for a soft dough that holds together.

Place more amaranth flour on the counter. Flour your hands. Remove a piece of dough. Roll between the palms of your hands with a good amount of pressure to form a smooth ball which leads to a more uniform circle when rolled out.  

Balls about the size of a ping pong ball
will make a 4” bread.
Balls about the size of a tennis ball
will make a 9" bread.

Place the ball of dough on the floured counter. Press into a disk. Flour a rolling pin and roll until they reach the thickness of a corn tortilla, or just use your hands to pat into a circle.

Heat a skillet rather hot. On my electric griddle I set it to it’s hottest, 400 degrees. No need for oil. Place the amaranth bread on the hot, dry skillet. Cook until top begins to bubble. Turn over and cook other side until more puffing happens. This should take about 3-4 minutes or so per side. Remove to a rack to cool. Store in zip lock bags. They don’t stick so you can stack several together. These freeze really well.  Double or triple the recipe and mix in a standing mixer.

Ways to Use your Amaranth Flat Breads

Crispy Thin Crust Pizza
This is my favorite and the favorite of many of my customers. Simply remove a frozen amaranth bread from the freezer and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Oil a large baking sheet. My favorite is coconut oil which tolerates high heat, but use whatever you have. (To melt the coconut oil place 1 Tbl per 9” crust, or 1 tsp per 4” crust on the baking sheet. Place in the oven until melted. Remove carefully.)

Lightly oil both sides of the amaranth bread by wiping both sides over the oiled pan. Top with your favorite pizza toppings and bake until the bottom of the crust is lightly brown and crispy.

A Lively Flat Bread for Any Occasion

Remove amaranth flat breads from the freezer, but they don’t have to thaw completely. Heat a large skillet, preferably, but not absolutely cast iron- quite hot, medium high.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil. I use extra virgin coconut oil for its flavor and health benefits, especially at high heat. But use what you have.

Place the bread on the skillet. Let is cook for 30 seconds or so, then turn to coat the oil on both sides. Sprinkle with any dry herbs or spices that go with your meal. Here I used freshly ground black pepper, sumac, and sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Allow the bread to cook to your liking, soft or crispy.

We enjoyed this with some lentils and greens. So satisfying and simple once the breads are made.

Now, use your imagination. This same recipe can be made in the oven, baked at 400. And try butter with cinnamon and sugar! A little sweeter.

Next post will include a whole grain cereal recipe that uses whole amaranth. Warm and earthy.


  1. I am so excited about your website and blog. I made a quiche using the sorghum pie crust for a holiday celebration, but it was too sweet for the savory quiche. I can't wait to try it with something sweeter. I also love your millet patties and am going to look for those quinoa flakes to replace the GF oatmeal that I usually eat. Looking forward to more from you.....

    1. Hi Maggie, I agree that the sorghum crust is a bit too sweet for quiche. Thanks for your feedback- and I'm happy that you are enjoying these foods. Yes, more to come. Next, two more biscotti's: amaranth and buckwheat.
      Thank You

  2. This is a great post - I feel hungry and smart! I think I will try and make some flatbreads myself so I always have a stash in the freezer.

    1. Thanks Lindsay. Once you get the hang of it these are easy to make.
      Eat Well!

  3. Picked up some of these Amaranth Flat Breads at Checkers yesterday. I ate one lightly toasted with all natural peanut butter & a drizzle of honey for breakfast today. So delicious and I'm so full!
    Thanks for handing out samples a couple weeks ago, I might never had discovered them otherwise!
    Now to buy some of your cookie dough :)

  4. Love your new blog!!!! Great photos too.
    xxoo M

  5. Great post. Thanks so much! I am going to make these flat breads today.

  6. Can I substitute sorghum for the cornmeal?