Saturday, August 2, 2014

amaranth greens, two ways

Only one of the two furry visitors currently in my apartment has been invited.  I'll let you guess which one: there is the mouse who lives under the radiator, and there is the adorable bunny who spent part of this morning eating kale stems out of my hand and tolerating a rub on his soft nose.

The bunny's name is Bunny (he came to us already named, ok?) and he will eat any vegetable except zucchini and snow peas.  Contrary to everything I learned about rabbits from cartoons, Bunny seems to prefer leafy greens over carrots, but he's not super picky, which makes him the perfect way to dispose of leftover vegetables.  Weird spot on your cucumber?  Bought too much tarragon with no plan for using it?  Kale ribs too tough to eat?  Feed 'em to Bunny.

This must be why people call salads "rabbit food."  (Though I try to spread the gospel of how crazy delicious salads can be with some salt and fat in the mix, which is why I was thrilled when I heard about a donut saladbut alas, the salad calls for "donut peaches," not actual donuts.  Way to get a girl's hopes up.)

Another of Bunny's fave dishes?  Amaranth stems.  I discovered amaranth greens at the farmer's market last year, and made a beeline for their vibrant magenta-streaked leaves.  Aren't they gorgeous?  I'd never seen them before, but grabbed a bunch, thinking I'd figure out what to do with them later.  (This is a common problem I have, which in the past has produced a lot of "kitchen sink" soups and stir fries, but now, see above re: Bunny as disposal.)

The greens at the market were labeled "callaloo," which I'd never heard of, but which is one of many names for the amaranth plant.  In some grocery stores here in Boston, you can even buy canned callaloo.  It's also the name of a dish popular in the Caribbean, where greens (often amaranth, but not always) are stewed with aromatics like garlic, onion, and spices.

Amaranth is also used in Indian cooking, in curries and saag dishes, and many of the recipes you'll find online are those.  I love them, and I love this callaloo, which is homey and spicy and filling and rich with coconut milk.  But amaranth, with a texture similar to spinach, can be more versatile than we usually allow, and so you'll find a second recipe here.  When I'm in the mood for something on the lighter side, I like sauteed greens on toast with a poached egg.  The way the golden yolk breaks at the poke of a fork and cascades down like a waterfallit's good over just about anything: salad, asparagus, pasta, whatever.  Enjoy.

Garlicky greens on toast with poached eggs
Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman
Serves 2

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
2 eggs
2 slices of your favorite bread
1 garlic clove, cut in half
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup blanched or steamed amaranth greens, coarsely chopped
½ ounce fontina or Gruyère, thinly sliced or grated
Chopped fresh chives (optional)

1.  First, poach the eggs:  fill a heavy medium saucepan with a couple of inches of water, add the vinegar, and set over medium heat until gently simmering.  Crack one of the eggs into a small bowl or ramekin.  Using a spoon, quickly stir the water in one direction until the pot looks like a whirlpool.  Add the egg into the center of the whirlpool (don't drop it in; allow the bowl to touch the water so that the egg slides smoothly in).  Turn off the heat, cover, and let the egg sit for five minutes.  When finished, set the egg aside in a bowl of warm water, and repeat with the next one.

2.  Toast the bread, and rub with the cut side of the garlic clove. Finely chop the leftover garlic.

3.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, then stir in the beet greens. Stir together for about a minute, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4.  Top the toasted bread with the greens, then top the greens with the cheese. Place in a warm oven or a microwave and heat just until the cheese begins to melt. Remove from the heat. Remove the eggs from the warm water, blot dry, and place on top of the greens. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and chives, and serve immediately.

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
Serves 4

Substitute any waxy potato for the Yukon Golds.  I eat this plain, but it would be lovely over rice or polenta.  If you like it spicy, serve with hot pepper sauce on the side.

1 large bunch fresh amaranth leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and small diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ cup unsweetened coconut milk
3 cups water

1.  Pluck the amaranth leaves from the thick center ribs.  Rinse well, then coarsely chop.

2.  Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the sweet potato, garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, until fragrant.

3.  Add the greens and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and the water. Cook, stirring, until the sweet potatoes are tender and the liquid has reduced by about half, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add more salt and pepper to taste.

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