Market share: Amaranth, or am I right?

When I thought of amaranth, I thought of the ’70s, when I would visit my hippie aunt and eat her health food cereal.

EVERYTHING’S BETTER WITH BACON: How to make bitter greens delicious
Photos by Stacey DeWolfe

For the past few years, I have lived within walking distance of the Jean-Talon Market, and having lived in many cities, and many neighbourhoods in this city, I can say that for me there are few better places. When I go to the market, as I do most days, my first stop is always Birri Brothers. And while a person can buy all manner of vegetables there, my focus is always on the greens. Here, you can dive into lettuces, chards, argulas and kales. But you can also explore a whole new world of leafy wonders, like dandelion, mizuna, chicory and amaranth.

Greens have long been my favourite food, and for many years, I believed, like many people, that there was a clear distinction between which should be eaten raw and which eaten cooked. In reality, the line is not so easily drawn. Sure, swiss chard is best sautéed with garlic and butter, or sesame oil and soy, but kale is delicious both cooked — either baked, sautéed or seared on the barbecue — and raw, massaged with a little oil and avocado.

On the other hand, lettuce and arugula are generally seen as salad greens but are equally good grilled or sautéed. One of my favourite dishes of the past few months is one that a friend made for me: lightly grilled romaine with anchovies and lemon. The best way to eat greens, however, is to wilt them in bacon and put an egg on top.

This summer, I decided that I would (not so) systematically work my way through all of the greens on offer at Birri, so yesterday I picked up a large bundle of amaranth, the last on my list to sample. When I asked the woman helping me what she did with amaranth, she apologized and confessed that it was also the only one that she too had not yet tried. She did note, however, that other customers had described the taste as quite bitter when eaten raw.

I had never seen amaranth in this form. When I thought of amaranth, I thought of the ’70s, when I would visit my hippie aunt and eat her health food cereal. The amaranth looked and tasted like oats, so I had always assumed it was a grain. But amaranth is actually an umbrella name for a variety of perennial plants, many of which grow as weeds.

This summer, while visiting friends in Maine, we harvested a garbage bag full of virulent weeds from the garden. We were taking the weeds to the compost when a neighbour suggested we cook them up instead. She called it wild spinach, or pig weed, which also happens to be another member of the amaranth family. Since then, I have noticed pigweed growing all over Montreal, but with the number of dogs and cats in the city, it is probably more sanitary to buy your amaranth at the market.

As it turns out, the taste of the raw green is not as bitter as first thought, but the leaves are tough and taste like green beans, and the stems are woody. For this dish, I suggest picking the leaves off, washing them well, and then leaving them to sit with a little water still clinging to them.

To make this dish for two, simply fry up some bacon to your liking. When you’re done, remove the bacon, dispose of as much of the fat as makes you comfortable, and toss in the amaranth and some thinly sliced garlic. Sauté until the leaves wilt and their colour brightens, adding some freshly squeezed lemon juice during the cooking process. Remove greens and season to taste.

In the same pan, add two thick-cut tomatoes and fry on both sides until they start to sizzle and their juice starts to run. Remove.

Crack two to four eggs into the pan and cook any way you like them. I am an over-easy kind of person, but you could also do this sunny side up, or even poached, if you prefer. While the eggs are cooking, put the greens into a shallow bowl and lay the tomato slices, bacon, thinly sliced raw onion and avocado on top.

When the eggs are cooked, slide onto the warm salad. All you need now is a grind of black pepper and a fork.

Read more about Stacey’s culinary adventures on her website, or follow her on Twitter @staceydewolfe

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