Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Tiny Amaranth Popcorn
People around me LOOOOOVE to talk about food; which works out just fine, because so do I. And one of the topics people feel very passionate about is breakfast. I've often wondered why so many people are willing to try a variety of foods, but insist on having a familiar breakfast. I guess when you get up in the morning you want to face something you know and care for, before the surprises of the day start hitting you...
Here in Tel Aviv, one of the most beloved breakfast traditions is the Israeli breakfast, consisting of fried eggs, a vegetable salad, cheese, bread, orange juice and coffee. In California, going out for brunch meant you'd face fried potatoes and some meat, and sometimes fruit instead of vegetables. When I visited Oxford for a talk, my hotel served cooked tomatoes and mushrooms. Each of these, of course, seems the only viable breakfast option to those used to it...
These days, I usually have fruit, or veg juice, or some light cereal of some sort; the newest invention I've come across is actually quite fun, and it makes breakfast into snacktime. Eating popped grains for breakfast feels a bit like pretending to be sick and skipping school; it's a breakfast that breaks the rules. I don't mean Rice Krispies or anything of the sort, but something that can be made, within minutes, in your kitchen, and tastes lovely on its own, or with your favorite soy, goat or cow morning liquid.
Yeah, Amaranth Popcorn. The concept is quite fun, actually. When in California, I bought Amaranth and didn't know what to do with it; my beloved nutritionist, Anasuya, recommended it as one of the healthiest whole grains. Apparently, amaranth seeds are very high in protein and contain significant amounts of amino acids; it's high in fiber and mineral content, in fact, much higher in fiber than wheat and much higher in calcium than milk. Truly a supergrain. And, as an added bonus, its chemical structure makes its many nutrients available to us even when processed. Which means, folks, amaranth is good for us.
There are many ways to combine amaranth in your diet, and I've tried some of them, and I find that I don't really enjoy cooked amaranth. In her wonderful breakfast book, Sunlight Cafe, Mollie Katzen recommends making wafers out of it, or cooking it into a porridge. You might enjoy this; me, I'll stick to the popcorn option any day.
So, how do you do this?
Popping seeds is quite easy once you know how to do it - "follow these easy assembly instructions", as Tom Waits says, and you'll be left with beautiful amaranth popcorn, with no charred grain or sticky skillets. The only tool you need is a smallish skillet, preferrably with a glass lid. I wouldn't do this in a wok, as the bottom needs to be wide and flat.
Put the skillet - dry, without even a drop of oil, on the stove. When the skillet is very hot, pour in, carefully, about a tablespoon of amaranth seeds. Avoid covering the entire bottom of the skillet. Quickly cover with the lid. You'll then witness a fun theatre of miniscule popping action (now this is why a glass lid is best; otherwise, you'll just have to trust your ears and listen carefully to the quiet, cute popping sounds). When all the grains have finished jumping merrily in the skillet, pour its contents into a bowl, return to the stove, and repeat with the next batch. Each batch takes, oh, about five seconds, and the entire amount you need will be made easily and quickly. The top picture in this post shows the exciting popping action as it happens.
Now, whaddya do with this thing? You could, of course, snack on it as it is. Or, you could add spices. Amaranth is a bit on the sweet side, but the popcorn will also take nicely to savory options. You could go with any of the following combinations:
Cinnamon, nutmeg, ground clove
Cumin, fennel seeds
Cardamon and cinnamon
Herb salt and pepper
The spiced popcorn goes well with nuts and yogurt, or with fruit, or on its own. Enjoy!