Amaranth with Pisto Topping

Amaranth. What to do with it? Heaven knows. It’s sticky, it’s tacky, it’s downright deliciously nutty and gives a wonderful feel-good after glow. It’s one of the super grains of the ancient Aztecs…

Because of its unusual consistency I thought amaranth might cook like baked polenta when topped with some simple vegetables and heated in the oven. I tried to imagine what sort of herbs and spices would complement this intriguing grain. Maybe…pisto? A simple Spanish classic of peppers and onions fried in olive oil, with a smattering of oregano and smoked paprika?  I’ve often joined my hubby Tenkei when he goes to Spain to lead a zazenkai for Zen River Madrid, and for lunch there was often a big pan of pisto prepared by Conchas restaurant. It was always so tasty. Perhaps that would do the trick? 

It did. This might even be a super-food recipe for super-zazen.

And even though Amaranth is no way near as firm as baked polenta, it was still simply scrumptious together. 

Ingredients

2 medium onions
2 large bell peppers
3 cloves garlic
3 medium vine-ripe tomatoes
6 artichoke hearts (about 240 g canned, rinsed and drained)
Small bunch of parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
125 g (¾ cup) cooked chickpeas. rinsed and drained

1½ teaspoons oregano
½ teaspoon smoked paprika powder
350 g (1¾ cups) amaranth
825 ml (3½ cups) water

Method

  • Peel and medium-dice the onions.
  • Deseed and medium-dice the bell peppers.
  • Peel and mince the garlic.
  • Medium-dice the tomatoes.
  • Rinse the artichoke hearts. Cut into quarters or eighths, depending on the their size. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
  • Roughly chop the parsley leaves, and finely chop their stems.

  • AMARANTH: If you have a fine enough sieve, rinse the amaranth over a bowl – any grains that fall through will land in the bowl and can be rescued. If not, it’s probably fine to use it just as it is.
  • Place the amaranth and water in a rice cooker and turn on. Or place in a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid.
  • If using a pot, bring to a boil on a medium flame. As soon as it boils, cover with a lid and turn down the flame to its lowest setting. Cook for about 20 minutes until the steam starts to dwindle, the water is absorbed and the grains are tender. Turn off and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 210 °C (410 °F).Oil a 22 cm x 30 cm (10” x 15”) baking pan and spread the amaranth in an even layer across the bottom. Set aside.

  • PISTO: while the amaranth is cooking prepare the pisto topping. In a frying pan on low–medium flame, heat the olive oil and add the bell peppers, onions, and garlic. Cover and sauté slowly until the onions and bell peppers are caramelized, about 15 minutes.
  • Add the oregano and sauté a further 1 minute, then stir in the tomatoes and chick peas. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the tomatoes soften and cook down into a sauce.
  • Add the smoked paprika. Season to taste.
  • Pour the pisto in an even layer on top of the amaranth in the baking pan.
  • Scatter the artichokes hearts over the pisto, being careful not to break them.
  • Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the artichokes begin to colour.
  • Garnish with parsley and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Tip: It’s possible to make this dish ahead of time, then bake in the oven until hot (about 30 minutes) before serving. After 20 minutes scatter the artichokes on top and check that the surface isn’t browning too fast. Otherwise cover with a piece of foil. 

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