Amaranth greens, streaked through with shades of red and purple, are fresh and cheap at Asian markets right now. Like snow pea shoots, amaranth greens are one of my favorite vegetables to stir-fry: Slightly astringent when raw, the greens turn soft and mellow as they cook down. Though younger amaranth greens can be eaten raw in salads, the mature plants that you're likely to find in Chinese and other ethnic markets need to be cooked—in stir-fries, soups, simmered dishes, and so forth.
The species of amaranth, which is technically classified as a herb, is cultivated by many Asian cultures as a leaf vegetable. Across Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and China (not to mention pockets of Africa and Europe where the vegetable is also common), cumin, chile peppers, onions, and garlic are common pairings for amaranth. Cultivated in Mexico thousands of years ago, both the leaves and seeds of amaranth are edible. The seeds, like that of quinoa, are high in protein and taste similar to true grains grown from grass seeds.
Like so many fresh Asian greens, amaranth greens need no embellishment aside from a few cloves of crushed garlic. If you buy the red-leafed variety, the leaves exude a blood-red juice when cooked that stains the garlic and collects in a pool of red. Other varieties, having leaves tinged with light green, are just as flavorful. The thinner stalks of the plant may be eaten as well. Most similar in taste to spinach, amaranth greens have a deep flavor and a hearty yet tender texture that makes it ideal for use in stir-fries and sautés.
Finally, when shopping for amaranth greens, look for relatively young bunches of the plant that don't display any budding flowers, an indication that the plant is already too mature.
- 1 large bunch amaranth greens, about 6 to 8 ounces
- 3 cloves very fresh garlic, crush
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil or lard
- Salt to taste, about 1/4 teaspoon
Cut the amaranth greens into 2-inch segments, preserving the natural shape of the leaves whenever possible. For the thicker stalks, cut the stalks into 1/2 inch lengths.