I have just returned from a lovely two weeks relaxing, and of course cooking, with family and friends at a couple of cottages. One day we left Horseshoe Island to check out the local farmer’s market. Strolling through the predominantly Caucasian market we came upon an elderly Chinese women and her daughter selling mom’s garden harvest of Chinese chives and greens. I inquired about the red-purple and green amaranth and the daughter responded that she had no idea what it was but translated her mother’s directions on how to cook it. I was amused by her response but was slow in asking for a bunch as the last couple were snapped up by other eager cooks, and so I left empty handed. Later that afternoon my friend’s sister-in-law returned from her shopping with what she described as beautiful ‘red kale’ and asked me how we could prepare it. She had already decided to give our meal a Mediterranean theme so I taught her a quick Italian recipe with the rainbow swiss chard, not kale as she had thought.
While preparing dinner together I shared with her my amaranth market story and also how during the winter and monsoon seasons the wet markets of South India offer a similar variety of bright leafy greens (of which the above picture, by Jason Taylor, shows a Konkani woman shopping in the Karwar market). She was curious to hear that South Indian cooks enjoy adding green and red amaranth leaves to soups, dals, or even making fresh chutneys out of them. My market experience demonstrated that increasingly amaranth leaves are being grown and sold at farmer’s markets because they grow easily, are hardy and highly nutritious but cooks are unsure of how to prepare them. I told my cooking companion that if they are unavailable beet greens, swiss chard or spinach are wonderful substitutes. Excited to learn more recipes with leafy greens I promised to share with her a quick Indian dish which highlights their freshness. So here it is my new friend- something that Marty definitely cannot do!
1 bunch (4 cups) red or green amaranth (beet greens, swiss chard, or spinach)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 green cayenne chillies, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch of turmeric
Salt, to taste
1/3 cup grated coconut (fresh, frozen or dry unsweetened)
Wash the amaranth leaves a couple of times in running water in order to remove any dirt or grit. Drain, cut off any of the tough bottom parts of the stalk and discard (if using swiss chard, chop finely the larger part of the stalks). Roughly chop the trimmed greens into bite sized pieces.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the sliced onion and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the onions are soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and green chillies to the pan and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Toss in the chopped amaranth and a pinch of turmeric. Mix well, cover and cook for about 4 minutes until the leaves are wilted and tender. If using spinach, the cooking time will most likely be halved. Remove the lid and continue to cook in order to allow any excess moisture to evaporate. Add the grated coconut, salt to taste, and sauté for another minute. Serve immediately.
Many Konkani cooks like to toss in some sweet, tiny shrimp close to the end of cooking.
1 cup small raw shrimp (or medium shrimp roughly diced) cleaned and deveined
Add the shrimp at the same time as the grated coconut and cook until the shrimp has changed colour and is just cooked through.
If you have some extra cooked chickpeas, black eyed peas, or kidney beans leftover in the fridge, toss in about a half cup of them into the pan when adding the greens and then continue accordingly.