I always seem to follow a post about huauzontle with one about its relative, Amaranth (Amaranthus sp., click here for more about the plant), and this time is not the exception. Popping seeds is a traditional way to cook amaranth in Mexico; in the old-fashioned way, seeds are exposed to heat on a comal (flat grill) and shaken with dry fronds, so the seeds begin to frolic and explode, turning fluffy, similar to popcorn, but cooked without any added fat.
In Mexico, it is easy to find already-popped amaranth, as well as many sweets prepared with it, such as the all-time favourite alegrías – “joys”, which are compressed squares of popped amaranth kept together with a brown sugar syrup, often decorated with dried fruits or nuts:
Other treats could be wafer sandwiches with different flavoured fillings: nutty such as walnut or peanut; fruity with strawberry or lime; or syrupy with chocolate, cajeta (goat’s milk caramel), honey or agave syrup, all trimmed with popped amaranth:
I wanted to make my own renditions of these sweets. In Canada, popped amaranth is an outlandish ingredient, but raw amaranth seed has become popular for its health benefits, so I found some at a health store. The first step was to pop raw amaranth seed; the process is a little tedious, but once the right amount of heat is determined, it is just a matter of consistently shaking the pan to avoid burning. Because every stove and pan are different, there are no general directions, just that the heat must be moderate, and the seed batches small. I started with a small stainless-steel saucepan and about one teaspoon of seed at a time. In the photo below, it may be appreciated my progress with different batches:
The first attempt had the highest heat, so the seed burned without popping. Further attempts with gradual lower heat settings produced batches with some popped seed, increasing until the optimum was batch #4, then popping decreased as the pan was too cool for batch #5. It only took a few seconds to pop the seed, as seen in the video below, for batch #4:
As soon as the seeds slowed down their popping, the pan was promptly removed from the heat source. I left the pan uncovered for the video, but it is better to put a lid on, so the popped seeds do not escape the pan. Continuing this process of constantly shaking the pan with the heat setting of my attempt #4, and small batches of one teaspoon of seed, I was able to pop enough amaranth for my two recipes:
Popped Amaranth Squares – Alegrías
1 ½ cups popped amaranth
¼ cup brown sugar or shaved piloncillo
2 tbsp agave syrup or honey
To decorate: dried fruit, nuts, etc., optional
Prepare an 8×8 inch container by lining with parchment paper (photo below, left); if using decorations, place at the bottom of the mould (photo below, right):
Place sugar and honey in a pot over medium heat, and stir to dissolve into a thick paste (photo below, left); continue cooking until smooth and sticky. Remove from heat and add popped amaranth, stirring vigorously to incorporate (photo below, right):
Scoop into prepared mould (photo, below, left) and flatten surface with the back of the spoon, for a uniform thickness (photo below, right):
Slice into portions with a sharp knife:
Allow to cool completely and set, for at least two hours before taking out of the mould. Serve with the bottom side up (photo at the top of this post.)
Wafer Sandwiches with Amaranth Trim –
Sandwiches de galleta con adorno de amaranto
Wheat wafers, plain or with pattern, such as tort wafers
Agave syrup or honey, for dipping, plus more for filling, or other fillings of choice such as cajeta (goat’s milk caramel), peanut butter, etc.
Popped amaranth seed
I could not find round wafers, so I used square tort wafers:
Placing them on a flat surface, smooth side facing up, use the lines as a guide to slice them (photo below, left); cut 3×3 inch squares (photo below, right):
Spread filling on the patterned side of each square; in the photo below, left, agave syrup was drizzled to pool in the small squares on the wafer. Close sandwiches by joining two squares, with the filling in the middle. Pour some agave syrup or honey in a bowl, and popped amaranth into another bowl. Dip all the edges of each sandwich in the first bowl, to make them sticky (photo below, centre); dip each sticky edge in the amaranth, to coat (photo below, right):
In the end, I was able to pop amaranth and prepare these two sweet treats at home:
Since this Halloween is probably going to be on the quiet side, with just a few ghoulish appearances at our door, these sweets will be a nice treat for the family, while watching some scary movies in the creepy shadows of the basement.
I am also sharing my recipe at Thursday Favourite Things #464, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.
I am bringing my recipe to Full Plate Thursday #499 with Miz Helen @ Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.