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Quinoa and Amaranth: Cooking with unconventional grains

  • Quinoa crusted chicken<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Quinoa crusted chicken
    Exotic grains
    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Carrot corn-amaranth muffins<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Carrot corn-amaranth muffins
    Exotic grains
    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Breakfast quinoa.<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Breakfast quinoa.
    Exotic grains
    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Breakfast quinoa.<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Breakfast quinoa.
    Exotic grains
    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Grape and amaranth cloud pudding.<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Grape and amaranth cloud pudding.
    Exotic grains
    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Quinoa crusted chicken<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Carrot corn-amaranth muffins<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Breakfast quinoa.<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Breakfast quinoa.<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Grape and amaranth cloud pudding.<br/>Exotic grains<br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

Quinoa and Amaranth have much in common. Both have been cultivated for thousands of years in South and Central America and are easy to grow in New Hampshire’s summer gardens, both are raised for their
high-protein seeds as well as their nutritious leaves, and both produce brightly colored plumes that look great in a flower bed. Both are
pseudo-cereals – that is, though we treat the dried seeds as grains, botanically they’re not. And both are gluten-free and easier to digest than wheat.

But when it comes to using dried whole quinoa and amaranth in recipes, there’s a world of difference. Quinoa, which produces a much larger “grain” than amaranth, is extremely easy to work with. It can be cooked with water just like rice, at a ratio of about 1 cup quinoa to 11/2 to 2 cups of liquid, and is a good substituted for rice in pilaf and risotto recipes. Below you’ll find two of my favorite ways to use it: as a nutritious breakfast cereal, and as a crispy crust on chicken fingers.

Amaranth, which looks like a miniature version of quinoa, is a bit trickier to use. Most recipes suggest mixing it with water at a ratio of 1 part amaranth to 21/2 to 3 parts liquid, bringing it to a boil, lowering the heat and covering the pot, then allowing the mixture to cook for about 30 minutes, until the grains are tender. Cooked this way, though, the amaranth turns into about 3 cups of gooey, albeit nutritious, porridge.

Gluey amaranth, I discovered, makes a terrific egg replacer in baked goods, like muffins, quick breads and pancakes, binding dry ingredients and adding nutrition at the same time. It also works well as a gluten-free replacement for farina (aka, Cream of Wheat) in an old-fashioned Scandinavian fruit dessert called Cloud Pudding.

Hot Quinoa Breakfast Cereal

1 cup quinoa

1/2 cup blanched almonds (you may use other nuts, if desired)

piece of cinnamon stick (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

1/2 cup currants or raisins

11/2 cups boiling water

pinch salt

cream, milk, soy milk or almond milk for serving, optional

Spread the quinoa and almonds over the bottom of a heavy pot, and place over a medium flame. Toast the mixture for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often so it doesn’t burn. The quinoa and almonds should turn a little golden and smell nutty.

Stir in the hot water along with the cinnamon, currants and a pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is translucent in the center, its wraparound “tail” is white and it is tender but not mushy.

Serve hot, with or without milk. The cereal will be quite sweet from the currants, but you may want to add a little honey or maple syrup.

Makes about 3 cups, cooked. Leftovers may be stored in the refrigerator and reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop.

Quinoa Chicken Fingers with Spicy Dipping Sauce

For the Chicken:

11/4 cups quinoa

2 teaspoons salt, divided

4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced or grated

juice of 1 orange

juice of 2 limes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

freshly ground black pepper

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into strips about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long

2 cups flour (regular or gluten free)

3 eggs, well whisked

if frying, 2 to 3 cups sunflower, grape-seed or other oil that can tolerate high temperatures

if baking, 1 to 2 tablespoons sunflower, grape seed or other oil that can tolerate high temperatures

For Dipping Sauce:

1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari

1/4 cup rice vinegar or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon chili paste, such as sambal oelek or sriracha and/or 1 small hot dried chili, seeded and cut into thin strips (to taste)

1 large clove garlic, peeled and grated or minced

2 to 3 scallions, washed, trimmed of roots and chopped into thin rings

Combine the quinoa with 5 cups of cold water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a pot large enough to hold the mixture comfortably. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking the quinoa for another 5 to 10 minutes, just until tender; the center of each grain of quinoa will look translucent and the “tail” that wraps around the grain will be white.

Pour the quinoa into a strainer to drain, but don’t rinse it. Spread the drained quinoa on a sheet tray to dry a bit more.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine the garlic, orange and lime juices, the cumin, the remaining salt and several turns of freshly ground black pepper in a non-reactive dish big enough to hold the chicken pieces in a single layer. Add the chicken to the marinade, turning it to coat both sides well. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for an hour.

Put the flour into a wide, flat dish or tray. Next to it, place the bowl of whisked eggs, then place the cooled and dried quinoa on a tray next to the eggs.

Dip each piece of chicken in the flour to coat it lightly, then dip it in the whisked eggs, allowing the excess egg to drain off the piece of chicken before dipping it in the cooked quinoa. Press the quinoa gently around the piece of chicken so the coating stays put, then place the chicken carefully on a plate. The dipped chicken may be refrigerated for several hours until you are ready to cook it. If cooking immediately, make the dipping sauce first.

Remember that raw chicken can be contaminated with salmonella and other bacteria, so it is essential that you keep the dipping sauce (which will not be cooked) well away from raw chicken juice. Be sure to wash your hands well before touching any of the dipping sauce ingredients and be sure that you do not contaminate the ingredients by allowing them to come into contact with a cutting board or knife that has been used in preparing the chicken.

Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and whisk well to incorporate the honey. Set aside until the chicken is cooked.

If frying the chicken, heat the oil in a heavy pot, or large heavy skillet; the oil should be an inch or two deep. When the surface of the oil shimmers, slide one piece of chicken into it. If the chicken bubbles around the edges, the oil is hot enough. Continue adding pieces of chicken to the oil, but don’t crowd the pot or the temperature will drop and the crust won’t brown properly. You will need to cook the chicken in several batches, adjusting the temperature of the oil as needed to brown the pieces evenly.

As the pieces of chicken turn golden on the bottom (this will take only 2 or 3 minutes), carefully flip them over so they can brown on the other side. When the pieces are brown on both sides, lift them out of the oil and set them on a tray lined with paper towels to drain, then place them on a sheet tray in a warm spot while you cook the rest of the chicken.

If baking the chicken, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously oil two sheet trays, then place the pieces of chicken on them, leaving a few inches between pieces. Place the chicken in the hot oven and cook for 5 minutes or so, until the bottom of the pieces of chicken turn brown.

Flip the pieces of chicken over carefully so the crust doesn’t come off, then return to the oven so the pieces can brown on the other side. The pieces should be cooked through and browned top and bottom after 10 to 12 minutes.

Serve the chicken hot, with dipping sauce on the side.

Serves 4 to 6 as a main course,
8 to 10 as an appetizer.

Based on a recipe in Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel E. Presilla

Gooey Amaranth

1 cup whole amaranth

3 cups water

Combine the amaranth and water in a pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Bring the mixture to a boil uncovered, then stir the amaranth, turn the heat very low, and cover the pot.

Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the amaranth is tender and has become a thick porridge.

Makes about 3 cups.

Concord Grape and
Amaranth Cloud Pudding

1 cup hot, unsweetened grape juice

11∕3 cups cooked, gooey amaranth (See previous recipe)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

sugar, if desired (up to 1/4 cup)

whipped cream (optional)

Combine the hot juice, amaranth and lemon juice in the bowl of an electric mixer, stirring gently by hand until the juice and amaranth are well mixed. Using the whip attachment, begin whipping the mixture, slowly at first, so it doesn’t splatter. Taste the mixture, and if it isn’t sweet enough for you, add a little sugar, up to 1/4 cup.

As the pudding begins to cool and thicken, turn up the speed on the mixer to full. Allow to whip until the pudding cools completely and becomes much lighter in color and very airy; it should have doubled or tripled in volume.

The pudding my be served immediately or refrigerated until cold, but it should be eaten the same day it is made. Serve it with whipped cream, if desired.

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