Friday, November 1, 2013

Amaranth Greens

I realized as I did a little refresher reading about amaranth what a huge category of vegetables this family encompasses. There's no way that I'm going to try to tackle the whole world of amaranth. It is popular around the world but it's a rather rare and unusual vegetable in the U.S., found more often in ethnic markets than in mainstream grocery stores or produce markets. More Americans are probably familiar with amaranth in the form of a "grain" than with it as a green vegetable. That's a shame because amaranth greens are very tasty, highly nutritious, and very easy to grow. If you like spinach you will probably love amaranth greens.

Most grain amaranths can be grown for their leafy greens, and vice versa, and there are even a number of "weed" amaranths that can be consumed. In my opinion if you want to eat the leafy greens you should find a variety that has been selected or bred for leaf production. The leaves will be more tender and the flavor will be superior. It's a very popular green in Asian cuisines so a good place to find seeds is from a purveyor of Asian vegetable seeds. One of the varieties that I am growing this year is Tender Leaf from EverGreenSeeds. EverGreen offers 8 varieties of leaf amaranth, some green leafed, some red leafed, and one bi-colored. I chose the Tender Leaf variety because it is dwarf variety. Some of the amaranths that I've grown in the past have been huge space hogs that got to 3 or 4 feet tall or more (more than a meter) and my garden just isn't large enough for that so I have been seeking out the dwarf varieties. I'm also growing a variety named Thai Tender, another dwarf variety, the seeds of which came from Baker Creek, but they don't seem to be offering that variety at the moment. Another seed source you might want to explore is the Seed Savers Exchange yearbook, there are 78 varieties of amaranth offered there, although those include grain varieties and you must be a SSE member to have access.

My first exposure to amaranth greens was years ago when I was volunteering with the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners. One of the volunteers did a cooking demonstration for us to show how she used some of the many Asian vegetables from her amazing garden. She stir fried some green amaranth leaves and some red amaranth leaves and I was instantly hooked on the green amaranth. I've been growing amaranth greens ever since.

This is my most recent harvest of Tender Leaf amaranth, brought in on Tuesday.

Amaranth is a warm weather vegetable, you shouldn't even consider trying to grow it until the weather warms up, and they will absolutely love hot weather. My cool climate dictates a late sowing date. This year I sowed the seeds into 4-inch pots on July 9th. Amaranth seedlings are very easy to transplant. I grew the seedlings all together in one pot for each variety and then separated the seedlings to plant out into the garden. Here's the seedlings on August 9, just a few days after they had been planted out. I had to cover them up to protect them from the birds. I used a rather tight spacing for my plants since they are dwarf varieties and I harvest them on a cut-and-come-again basis. If you want to grow them for the seeds or want to save the seeds I would recommend a much wider spacing.

August 9

Amaranth is a very quick grower when the weather is warm. The plants were nearly ready to harvest in only 3 weeks.

August 29

It was ready to harvest just days later. Imagine how quickly it would be ready to harvest in a warmer climate than mine.

September 2
Here it is after the first harvest. It is easy to harvest on a cut-and-come-again basis. Cut the stems down to a few leaf nodes and the plants will resprout with multiple new stems.

Sept. 5

September 12
It grew back enough that I was able to harvest nearly 2 pounds of greens on September 20th. The shorter days and cooler nights slowed the growth down after that but the plants were ready for another harvest by the end of October, especially the Tender Leaf variety which is the plants shown on the left in the photo below. I harvested 13.5 ounces of just the Tender Leaf variety on the 29th of October.

October 24
This will likely be my final harvest of the Tender Leaf amaranth and I should harvest the rest of the Thai Tender variety very soon. The plants will start to deteriorate rather quickly as the days get shorter and colder.

If you can cook spinach then amaranth greens will be right at home in your cooking repertoire. To prepare it for cooking I usually pluck the largest leaves from the stalks and remove their stems since I find that the stems can seem stringy when they are cooked. The tips of the shoots can be left whole as can any small side shoots growing in the leaf nodes. You can even peel and cook the large stalks but I usually don't bother with them.

The easiest way to cook amaranth is to sauté a little garlic in olive oil, or for an Asian flavor use peanut oil, or vegetable oil and sesame oil, and then wilt the greens and serve with a sprinkle of salt or perhaps some soy sauce or fish sauce. You can substitute amaranth greens in just about any dish that calls for spinach. One reason that I prefer the green leafed varieties over the red leafed varieties is that they don't turn whatever you are adding them to red. I also find the green amaranth to be a bit more mild in flavor. Amaranth also has a flavor that is similar to spinach but sweeter as it lacks the oxalic tang of spinach.

This Tuesday I was challenged to find a way to prepare the Sablefish that we received from our Local Catch community supported fishery. Sablefish is not a favorite of mine or my husband and I really wanted to find a way of preparing it that we would actually like. It's very rich and silky textured and easy to overcook. I came up with the idea of gently poaching it in a tomato broth and serving it in the broth with some wilted amaranth greens. Well, that turned out to be a big hit, it was delicious. The preparation had the added bonus of using up some of the slightly overripe tomatoes that were sitting on my kitchen counter. You can find the recipe for Sablefish in Tomato Broth with Amaranth Greens on my recipe blog.

Sablefish in Tomato Broth with Amaranth Greens


  1. I missed amaranth, keep forgetting to sow the seeds for summer crop, got to make a note on next year's planting calendar.
    Sablefish/black cod is my #1 choice of fish, once in a great while I'll find it at local Whole Foods market.

  2. I've never tried amaranth. How hot does it need to be before you plant it out?

    1. In my garden the critical factor is the nighttime temperature, we get lows in the 40's through June and amaranth seems to resent that. It seems to do fine once the nighttime temps stay pretty much above 50°F and seems happiest when the daytime temps are in the high 60's or warmer. From what I've read it needs a minimum soil temperature of 50°F to germinate but does best around 68°F. I always start mine indoors.


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