Jackie Ballou, MS, RD
To my delight, my boyfriend’s mother recently made me up a bag of fresh vegetables to take home. The delectable leaves, roots and flowers inside were anything but ordinary.
She told me one of the vibrant looking leaves was an herb called amaranth. I was surprised, for I knew amaranth to be a gluten-free, nutrition powerhouse of a grain (technically speaking, a seed), containing protein and fiber. What I was not aware of was the nutritional value and versatility of the leaves of this same plant, which produces the seeds I am more familiar with.
Upon doing a bit of research, I found out that amaranth leaves are an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K and are also a good source of the minerals, calcium and manganese. The leaves of this plant can be used as a substitute for spinach. The more mature leaves should be cooked (stir frying or sautéing with a olive oil and some garlic works well) while the younger, more delicate leaves may be used raw in salads. Similar to kale, it can also be added to soups and stews.
In admiring, learning about and tasting amaranth leaves, I got to thinking about the abundance of exotic plant foods found at farms and farmers’ markets. And furthermore, what an opportunity lies in exploring these treasure troves with kids. I can’t think of a better way for children to explore a new food in its entirety than picking out a new fruit or vegetable, taking it home, preparing it, and sampling it.
To plan your next fruit and veggie treasure hunt, find the closest farmers market or pick your own farm at mass.gov: http://www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/index.htm.