I first heard of amaranth during a two-week visit to Mexico last winter. My friend and I were dashing through a metro station in Mexico City on our way to catch a bus up to Querétaro when she stopped short at a food vendor sitting against the wall of the underground hallway beside a stack of what looked like glossy, speckled bricks. They exchanged a few Spanish words and pesos before we continued our rush to the platform. I forgot the passing moment until we were settled comfortably into the bus and she revealed her purchase to me: a cellophane-wrapped block of pale grains, seemingly puffed and glued together like a rice krispies treat, studded with nuts and berries.
“Here, want some?”
“What is it?”
“Oh. What’s amaranth?”
It turns out she wasn’t sure herself, she just knew it made for delicious street food and an excellent travel snack. When I sampled a corner—mild, sweet, crumbly with a light crunch—I instantly agreed. It wasn’t until later that I’d look it up and learn more about the grain’s origins and significance.
As Kevin Dahl explains on page 26 of Native Harvest: Authentic Southwestern Gardening, “For the Aztecs of Mexico, protein-rich amaranth was a major crop, as important to their economy and rituals as corn.”
In their cookbook Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing, Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel include a recipe for the specific treat my friend shared with me on that bus trip. Here’s their explanation and ingredient list; you’ll have to get a copy of the cookbook for full instructions!
Alegría Power Bar
We think this is one of the original “power bars.” These amaranth treats date back to before the Conquest, when they were shaped into many forms, including skulls, toys, and mountains. Alegrías are sold today as bars or discs in Mexico City’s tianguis, or open-air markets. The combination of nuts, seeds, and amaranth make this a high-protein breakfast.
3 ½ cups popped amaranth seeds
½ cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds
½ raw hulled sunflower seeds
½ cup chopped peanuts
½ cup dried currants
1 cup raw local honey
¾ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp fresh lemon juice (p 232)