Popped and Unpopped Amaranth Seeds

Popped and Unpopped Amaranth Seeds

Did you know that amaranth is actually a seed of a plant and that you can eat the leaves too?  I went to pick up a basket of organic veggies the other day and there was an unrecognizeable stalk with some leaves dangling off of it.  The lady told me it was amaranth.

I'm familiar with the seeds but I never saw an unrooted amaranth stalk.  After some research,  it turns out that I grew up eating amaranth leaves without ever realizing it.  It is a staple food to the Aztecs and it's used in Asian cuisine too.  In Chinese it is called xiàncài,莧菜.   Apparently there are many species and it comes in a large range in colors from light to dark green shades, and violet to red leaf hues.

My mother would sauté the amaranth (xiàncài,莧菜) and include that in the many dishes served in front of us.    Similar to spinach, it offers the same nutritional qualities full of antioxidants, protein, vitamins, calcium, iron and minerals.  FYI, I used those few dangling leaves in my japchae dish.


Categorized as a whole-grain food, it is actually a seed.  Just like quinoa, it has a higher plant protein and calcium content compared to its other grain competitors.  It's gluten-free too.

You can cook this as the grain portion of your meal, have it for breakfast as porridge, pop it and use it as toppings for yogurt, salad, dessert, and other dishes.

Popped Amaranth

INGREDIENTS// Yields 1/2 cup

• 3 tablespoons amaranth seed, uncooked


Heat a pan over medium to high heat.

Add a drop of water to it.  If it sizzles and evaporates immediately, your pan is good to go.

Add one tablespoon of amaranth at a time.  It should begin to pop immediately.  If not, then your pan is not hot enough.  Then entire popping process should take less than 10 seconds.  Not all of it will pop so remove it from the heat before it burns and transfer it to a bowl.

Let it cool completely before you store it in a sealed jar or container.


It took me a couple of tries until I got this right.  You will know when you get it right.  It will take a matter of seconds before the amaranth begins to pop so if it is taking longer it means your pan is not hot enough.  Also, I don't use a cover for the pan so it gets slightly messy, but a hoover will take care of that quickly.


Onigiri, Japanese rice balls packed full of wholesomeness.

There was one year during my elementary school years where I brought a bento box lunch as opposed to a brown bag lunch.  I say one year because I went to about 4 or 5 different elementary schools and for some particular reason I really remember lunch time at only one particular elementary school. 

This was the year my uncle, Iichigawa-san from Japan, came to stay with us.  He would make me rice balls stuffed with umeboshi, a Japanese pickled salt plum (my favorite) or fill them with pieces of salmon or ikura (salmon roe) for my bento lunch.  Sometimes they were round like a ball and sometimes they were shaped into triangles. Sometimes they were wrapped with nori (seaweed) and other times just sprinkled with furikake, mixed savory sprinkles.

This is when I had my Molly Ringwald moment from The Breakfast Club  "sushi lunch scene"—so if you can imagine what the kids' reactions were towards sushi in the 80's...I clearly wasn't the most envied one while chomping down into my black seaweed covered rice balls.

Seaweed is a health food and sushi has gone global.  I now make this with flavored rice, experimenting with different grains, beans, and seeds and adding shredded vegetables into the mix.   It's practical for picnics and makes a great snack.  Create your own onigiri according to your own tastebuds!

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)


• 2 cups Japanese short grain rice
• 1/2 cup roasted buckwheat groats (kasha)
• 1/2 cup adzuki bean flakes
•  1 small avocado
• 2 sheets of Korean style roasted seaweed
•  yukari (dried shiso leaf powder)
•  sesame seeds
• 1 tablespoon amaranth seed, popped


In your removable rice cooker pot add the rice and rinse with water using your hands to swish the rice and water around.  The water will be cloudy.  RInse until it gets less cloudy.

Add the buckwheat and adzuki beans, and fill the pot with water to the point where indicated for 3 cups of water—I usually add 1/4-1/2 cup water more.

Place it back in your rice cooker and select the mode for cooking rice.

When cooked, using your rice spatula genlty flip through the rice to fluff it up a bit.

Let the rice cool down before handling.

If using a onigiri triangle mold, wet it beforehand so that the rice does not stick to it (remember to do it before each one).

Simply fill the mold with rice just below the halfway point and create a dent in the middle.

Scoop out a quarter of the avocado and place it in the middle.  Be careful not to overstuff.

Fill the top half with the rice mixture press down with the lid onto the rice.

Take the lid off, flip over the mold, and press down on the flexible backside to push out the rice.

You can also use your hands to mold the rice into balls or triangles: Keep your hands wet, spread the rice out on the palms of your hands, place the fillings in the center, fold up the rice around it, pack it tightly with your hands, and form it into the shape you like. 

Sprinkle it with some sesame seeds and/or yukari (adds a tangy and slightly salty taste), and popped amaranth seeds.

Cut your Korean roasted seaweed in half lengthwise, place the rice triangle in the middle and fold up the sides of the seaweed pressing the seaweed into the rice so that it sticks.  Bend the top flaps of the seaweed down along the sides of the triangle so that the rice triangle is entirely wrapped.



I use Korean or Japanese seaweed.  Korean seaweed is more flavorful because it is roasted with oil and salt.  Check the ingredients list making sure it is short and not added with additional salt, sugar or artificial ingredients.