In my previous post, I shared recipes for traditional sweets made with popped amaranth seed; cooking with this pseudo-grain is very appropriate for this time of year, since El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated in Mexico on November 2, and amaranth was an important element in offerings for this occasion in pre-Hispanic times, when the Mexica (Aztec) commemorated the dead during their summer months around July and August. Amaranth was called huāuhtli in Nahuatl, cultivated mostly for its seeds, and consumed ground in beverages, or as a substitute of corn, wherever this crop was hard to cultivate. As part of the ceremonies commemorating the dead, a paste was made with cooked seeds and agave syrup, or native honey, and shaped into symbols such as skulls, hearts and some of their deities, prominently Mictēcacihuātl, also known as “The Lady of the Dead”. She was the female deity dedicated to guard the bones of the deceased in the underworld, said to come to the dimension of the living and show her lucid self during this time. After the ceremonies, the amaranth offerings were shared, to pacify the hunger of the gods and the departed alike, and as nourishment for the living.
Not long after the Spanish conquest, the Catholic church sent priests and missionaries to the new lands, taking the colonies by storm; they replaced the native rituals for the dead with great success during the indigenous population’s conversion process, combining them with the observances of the feast of All Saints, also called All Hallows’ day (November 1st) and All Souls’ day (November 2nd). The Mexica month-long summer celebrations were moved to coincide with these two days, and nowadays, many families in Mexico and Central America set-up offerings with a fusion of pre-Hispanic and Christian elements, in honour of their beloved deceased. The native amaranth was replaced with European wheat, both as a crop and for religious applications, such as for the now traditional Bread of the Dead (Pan de muerto).
Nowadays, amaranth seed has become very popular worldwide, as a healthy cereal substitute, served cooked with milk or yogurt, and often with dried fruit and nuts. I prepared a batch, as directed on the package, and it was delicious with yogurt and dried cranberries:
As a way to observe the Day of the Dead, and as a token to honour the departed, I also made a batch of cooked amaranth paste, and formed it into skulls, as shown at the top of this post.
Cooked Amaranth Paste – Pasta de amaranto cocido
½ cup amaranth seed
1 cup water
2 tbsp corn flour (masa flour, not starch)
1 tbsp agave syrup or honey, plus more, to serve
Bring water to boil in a pan over high heat; add amaranth seed (photo below, left). Lower heat to medium, stirring to rehydrate the seed (photo below, right):
Continue cooking and stirring, until the seed is tender and most of the water has been absorbed, about fifteen minutes, then add syrup or honey (photo below, left). Add corn flour and stir to incorporate into a paste (photo below, right):
Continue cooking for another two minutes so the flour does not taste raw. Form into small shapes with wet hands (the paste will be crumbly, so nothing too tall or large). Place on a plate and pour a little syrup or honey around:
This year, it is just my husband and me at home, since both our two daughters are abroad, so I am not baking pan de muerto, but I have already shared two recipes in previous years; please click on the pictures below for my recipes for a choice of Day of the Dead Bread (left) or Oaxaca Style Yolk Bread (right):