Summer for me is defined by camping, being outdoors, small moments in expansive spaces contemplating my place in all of it. My place of choice lately has been the Adirondack mountain range. I like the challenge of climbing the high peaks and the reminders and perspective found in the night skies. Earlier this month we stayed on a small farm up there. They didn’t have much of a kitchen, but they did have lots of happy animals roaming around a beautiful garden full of scapes and kale, rhubarb and wild strawberries. Last weekend we were camping in the same region and I happened upon enough wild blueberries in the mountains to add to our morning oatmeal. It’s hard not to get excited about what the earth is producing when the days are long and the weather is good.
In our efforts to embrace a way of eating that will promote longevity and heart health, I’ve been discovering so many new elements of eating. Rather than deprivation it feels like subtle shift, an opening, evolution and addition of all the amazing ways in which plants serve us. For the climbs that take all day and for a simple snack I started making these energy-rich amaranth bars. Naturally gluten-free, protein and fiber-rich amaranth grain is a nutritional powerhouse that I discovered when I was working in Mexico last year. These snacks, called alegrías, were everywhere from the open-air markets to the side of the road. You could always tell which seat I was working in at the Mexico office because mine was inevitably studded with popped amaranth, even when I thought I got it all cleaned.
Amaranth has ancient Aztec origins and was once widely consumed as part of religious ceremonies and social gatherings. Unfortunately, amaranth was once forbidden by Spanish colonizers in the 1500s because of the religious association but fortunately lately it has been experiencing a resurgence in use. Alegría is the Spanish word for happiness and once you taste these bars, you will understand why. Amaranth has a naturally sweet and nutty flavor. A little unrefined sugar in the form of honey or maple syrup holds them together and makes them special. The trick to making these is popping the amaranth. You have to pop the seeds like popcorn a little at a time in a very hot pan for 15 seconds. Some versions of alegrías are studded with nuts and seeds, while others are pure cakes of uninterrupted amaranthness. They’re perfect for breakfast or a mid-day snack and a great change-up to my favorite granola bars.
I hope you’re all getting outside a bit!
AMARANTH ENERGY BARS (ALEGRIAS)
- 1/2 cup amaranth (or one cup popped)
- 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
- handful of raisins, chopped chocolate, nuts, seeds, etc.
If you are using amaranth grain that has not been popped heat up a skillet to high heat. The pan should be deep, or you will have popped amaranth all over your kitchen. The grain is light and will fly up into the air. No oil is necessary. Slowly add 1 tablespoon to test the pan and agitate the pan or stir with a wooden spoon. The grain should pop within 15 seconds. Transfer to a bowl quickly as the amaranth can easily burn. If popping does not occur the pan is not hot enough. Continue popping in small batches.
Place syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a soft boil. Boil for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly. The length of time is very important to allow the bars to stick together, but not turn into a hard candy that will break your teeth.
After 7 minutes of boiling, slowly add the popped amaranth, seeds, nuts, and diced dried fruit. Use what combinations taste good to you, but keep the proportions the same. I like cranberries, pepitas, and almonds. Stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are coated with the syrup. If the mixture seems too wet, add a few more tablespoons of popped amaranth. You want all the ingredients to be coated so it sticks together.
Transfer the mixture to a oil or spray coated pan or a pan with parchment paper and push the mixture into the corners of the pan by hand or the back of a spoon. Let cool and harden (about 10 minutes). Cut into bars and enjoy!
Wrap any that are not eaten immediately airtight and store in a cool, dry place.