I am maybe 40 percent sure that what I am eating is amaranth?
Usually in a case like this, I’d be able to ask the cook or the server for more information. But tonight I was the cook, and the server.
If you’ve noticed an increase of food-related shots on my Instagram feed — the most recent four are just over to the right, in the sidebar — it’s because I’ve joined a community-supported agriculture group (CSA). Every Thursday, Chow Locally delivers a box with 7–10 different kinds of produce, which I split with a co-worker and then spend the next week trying to work into a meal.
I’ve also been trying to eat better in general — more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. — which means that sometimes when I’m at the supermarket or specialty store I pick up things like forbidden rice, or barley, or chicken andouille. And subsequently, I’ll open up a cabinet and say: “When did I buy quinoa pasta?” Or, if it’s something I grabbed from a bulk bin: “What is this?”
Which is the case of the mystery grain that’s been sitting in an airtight container, sharing shelf space with the wild rice, dry beans and aforementioned barley. No label, no note … nothing. I have no idea where I bought it, or why, or how long ago. (If you were an evil genius with dastardly plans to do away with me, apparently you could accomplish this easily by adding an exotic-looking yet deadly foodstuff to my pantry. You might have to wait a while, but eventually I would end up cooking and consuming it.)
So I did what I do while cooking pretty much any grain or pasta: Measured out it and salted water in a 1:6 ratio, put everything on the burner for a roiling boil, and waited. While it cooked, I tried smelling the grain in an attempt to discern any origin — I got a hint of sweet corn, but nothing definite or major. More confusing to me: Unlike pasta or rice, these tiny grains didn’t seem to be growing much in water — and half of them weren’t even sinking below the surface. I kept dipping a spoon to grab a few grains and test for doneness, but I wasn’t sure how to gauge “doneness,” either.
“I feel like I’m cooking tiny birdseed,” I thought, and after about 10 minutes I decided to do an image search on “tiny whole grain” to see if I could figure out what I was cooking. While I was punching in that phrase, the word amaranth suddenly sprang to mind.
Research seemed to back up my hunch, especially a line that said the cooked product has the consistency of tiny pearls of caviar. As you can see from the photo up top, that’s an accurate description of what I ended up stirring into my ragu of ground turkey, CSA collard greens and diced tomatoes, all in a light tomato-vodka sauce.
The amaranth ended up adding an interesting texture — similar to but not as gritty as, say, Cream of Wheat — but not a lot of flavor. Or heft: I wonder how much is technically a serving? A half-cup of dry grains ends up growing to about ¾ cup cooked, but wouldn’t be enough to provide a true sense of satiety. It’s like a tiny, healthy mix-in.
|WHAT SAM WORE: 2-22-14|
|The shirt: Knit polo, on clearance at Zara in New York.|
|The shorts: Cargo shots by American Eagle, from Buffalo Exchange.|
|The shoes: All-Stars by John Varvatos for Converse, from Nordstrom Rack|