I picked up a beautiful bunch of Amaranth leaves at the farmer’s market recently. Amaranth seeds are consumed whole and as flour. As a seed, amaranth is used in Indian cooking to make sweet puddings, brittle, savory daal or upmas. The flour is typically used in making roti, puri or dosas. The leaves are very commonly cooked with daal. I’ve also tasted meat dishes that incorporate the leaves. The leaves of the amaranth plant are very commonly found in India, but I don’t see them in standard grocery stores in the US. Amaranth flour is commonly found in grocery chains throughout the USA, and amaranth seeds can be bought at your local Indian grocery store. Back to amaranth leaves – I have found the best amaranth leaves at farmer’s markets. Sometimes I am lucky and find these bunches in an indian grocery store, but those are usually overgrown stalks and not as good as the tender leaves you get at the farmer’s markets.
When cooked, amaranth leaves have a satisfying taste – a hint of tang and a pleasing texture. They remind me of eating collard greens that are soft and flavorful. As for the nutritional value, amaranth leaves are touted as being high in vitamin A, C, calcium and iron. Fiber included!
To prepare the leaves for cooking, you must remove the twine or rubber band that holds the stems in the bunch; set the stems in a colander, and patiently wash every stem before setting it into a separate container. Don’t worry, this task goes faster than you think, and is essential. There is usually a little amount of grit on the leaves that must be completely washed out. The worst thing you can do to this dish is to add amaranth leaves that were not rinsed properly. In that case, as you try to eat this dish, every gritty bite will unforgivingly remind you that you need to be more patient the next time.
Thotakura pappu has its origins in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Like most daals, this dish is traditionally eaten with hot rice or chapatis. These days my awareness has grown beyond rice and rotis, and so I also combine it with other cooked grains or seeds like brown rice, barley or quinoa. A nice dousing of fresh ghee transports the experience of savoring this dish to an entirely new level. Your excuse for ghee is that Ayurveda, the ancient practice of medicine in India, touts ghee as favorable to your body.
Serves 6-8 Ingredients: 1 cup tuvar daal 2 tbsps channa daal (optional) 1 large bunch fresh amaranth leaves, rinsed well and chopped (4-5 cups) 1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion 1 large tomato, chopped 1 serrano pepper, cut longitudinally (keep seeds) 1/2 tsp cumin seeds 1/2 tsp turmeric powder 1/2 tsp red chilli powder or paprika 1 heaped tbsp coriander powder 4 tbsps thick tamarind extract salt to taste Seasoning oil: 1 tbsp vegetable oil 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds 1/2 tsp cumin seeds 1 dry red chilli, broken into 1" size pieces 4 large garlic cloves, roughly crushed 10-12 fresh curry leaves 1 tsp ghee Method: Cook the tuvar daal and channa daal (if using) with two cups of water in a pressure cooker as per the manufacturers cooking instructions. The daal should be soft and mushy when done. Set aside. In another pan, add 1 cup water, and combine the chopped amaranth leaves, onion, tomato, serrano pepper, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander powder, tamarind extract and salt. Cook on medium heat, uncovered until the leaves are soft and tomatoes are mushy. Fold in the cooked daal into the amaranth mixture. Adjust seasonings if required. To make the seasoned oil, heat the vegetable oil on medium heat in a small saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the other ingredients and slowly cook until the garlic is lightly browned around the edges. Pour the seasoned oil over the daal and mix to incorporate flavors. Serve hot with freshly made white rice, brown rice, quinoa or rotis.