Two Andean grains, quinoa and amaranth (known as kiwicha in the Andes) have gained a worldwide following thanks to their great taste and highly nutritious properties. Both grains are an unusually complete source of protein compared to grains like wheat and rice, containing the essential amino acid lysine, as well as iron and other nutrients.
There are many ways to enjoy these grains. Quinoa grains are larger than amaranth, whose tiny grains are almost as small as poppy seeds. Quinoa and amaranth can be cooked like rice and enjoyed as a pilaf-like salad. Both have a slightly nutty flavor and a pleasingly chewy texture. Both quinoa and amaranth can be processed into "flour" which is used to make breads and other baked goods.
In South America, one of the most common way to prepare these grains is to toast or "pop" them, which is quite simple to do. Popped amaranth and quinoa are common breakfast cereals (similar to rice krispies or corn puffs), and they are also used to prepare street food snacks that are something like seed and nut bars. It's quite entertaining to "pop" these grains in a skillet, and it gives them a nice toasted flavor. Amaranth exhibits especially impressive popping ability considering its tiny size - it pops opens and turns white like miniature popcorn.
Served these popped grains as a snack, or add them to cookies or baked goods. Sprinkle them on top of breads or bagels, or shake them over a salad for a healthy crunch.
- 1/2 to 1 cup (pre-washed) quinoa or amaranth
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (optional)
- Quinoa is often pre-washed before packaging, which should be stated on the box. If not, rinse quinoa thoroughly and let dry).
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon of the vegetable oil if desired (this will help the salt adhere to the grains later if you are going to eat them like popcorn, but it's not necessary for popping them). Add about 1/4 cup of grain, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan with a single layer. Stir grains with a wooden spoon as they pop - you will hear a sound and the grains may jump out of the pan. Amaranth grains pop very dramatically and change from dark yellow to white, while quinoa grains have a more subtle pop and turn a toasted brown color.
- Once the grains have mostly popped, remove them from the heat and transfer to a plate to cool. Watch quinoa especially closely and remove it from the heat when it is golden brown and toasted before it starts to burn.
- Continue to pop the grains in batches. Toss popped grain with salt and serve.