You can have leafy summer salads in the hot southeast! Though “heat resistant” lettuce only gets you so far into the season before bitterness and bolting set in, you don’t have to go without greens until fall.
Amaranth greens are by far my favorite lettuce substitute. The first time I tasted it I was trying too hard to compare it to lettuce and it wasn’t until my second or third amaranth meal that I began to notice the sweet and nutty undertones in the tender, spinach-textured leaves. The young stems are edible too — they remind me of skinny asparagus.
In addition to being a lovely, versatile vegetable (eat them raw or cooked!) they are incredibly easy to grow. The direct-sown seeds germinate even in the sweltering heat, grow rapidly, and are scarcely bothered by pests or diseases. Many people grow amaranth varieties that are used for grain, but fewer people know about the varieties grown for their tasty foliage. This includes varieties of Amaranthus blitum, A. cruentus, A. dubius, A. tricolor, and A. viridis. Some people eat the young shoots of grain amaranths, too.
Get your amaranth green seeds at Asian markets or from mail order catalogs.
- Evergreen Asian Seeds (8 varieties)
- Kitazawa Seeds (6 varieties)
- Pase Seeds (6 varieties)
- Shaker Heirloom Seeds (1 variety)
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds (1 variety)
- Seeds of Change (1 variety)
I originally picked up a cheap packet of their seeds at a nearby Asian grocery store. You may be able to buy yours locally, too. Make sure to look closely at online amaranth green photos before you go shopping since the paper packets may not be written in English.
You can sow amaranth greens directly into your garden beds any time after your frost free date, they take only 30 days to reach harvest size. Full sun is recommended but I’ve found they’ll grow in shady spots in the south with almost the same vigor. Succession sow a new patch every month of the warm season if you like (warning: this is a prolific veggie — 4′ x 4′ of it nearly overwhelmed my 4 person family last summer). The seeds are tiny so I sprinkle about 3 – 6 seeds every 2 inches (in rows around 3″ apart) and barely cover them up. I don’t bother thinning them later on, it doesn’t seem to matter. Prevent the soil from drying out much until their tops are at least 2″ tall. After that you can irrigate them the way you would any garden vegetable. They’ll tolerate some drought but the most tender greens come from unstressed plants that receive plenty of water.
If you have trouble germinating your amaranth it could be that your soil has formed a hard crust that the small seeds can’t penetrate. This can be particularly problematic in heavy clay. You can avoid this by mixing more compost into the top inch or two of soil just before planting. In wet climates seedlings may disappear as they emerge due to hungry snails and slugs. Use beer traps or an iron phosphate bait product like Escar-Go! to protect them.
Out of all my emerging seedlings I’ve had the least problems with amaranth. It’s so eager to perform in the garden that it can reseed itself and become weedy. Either let it reseed for the following season or avoid weeding by pulling it before the feathery flowers set seed.
I start harvesting amaranth greens when the plants are about 8″ high. Simply cut the small plants just above the first or second set of leaves, taking only the tender tops. They are ready to cut again when they have put out new tender shoots that are 6″ or more long. It doesn’t take any time — harvest often! Once you have harvested the first time you may want to apply a nitrogen-rich slow-release fertilizer.
Using amaranth greens is as simple as washing, tossing, and applying your favorite salad toppings and dressing. Or throw them stems and all into your next stir-fry. Substitute them in any recipe that calls for greens like lettuce, spinach, or kale.
Here’s some recipes to help you use up your bounty of summer greens. If you weren’t able to grow them yourself, try your local Asian grocery store’s produce section.
AMARANTH GREEN RECIPES:
Amaranth Green Salad With Asian Dressing
- A big bowl full of washed, trimmed, and tossed amaranth greens
- Seasonal veggies (like tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, carrots, celery, zucchini, green beans, etc.) sliced into ribbons or bite-size pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (can be soy diluted with water if it is strong)
- 3 or more tablespoons of fresh sesame seeds
- 1 – 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
- 1 – 3 cloves crushed and finely minced raw fresh garlic
- 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh grated ginger
- black pepper to taste
- (optional) 1 – 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil (unusual basil varieties such as Thai, holy, lemon, and licorice are very good in this recipe)
- Mix the greens with the other salad veggies (or simply sprinkle the non-leafy veggies on top).
- Mix the oils, soy sauce, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger, black pepper, and optional basil in a bowl and whisk until emulsified.
- Just before serving pour the dressing over the salad and use clean hands to lightly toss the vegetables until they are thinly coated.
Links to Online Recipes:
- Vegetarian Callaloo Soup on TriniGourmet.com (use amaranth callaloo instead of taro or spinach)*
- Vegetarian Callaloo Soup on EHow.com (use amaranth instead of taro)*
- Callaloo Soup on AllRecipes.com (use amaranth as callaloo)*
- Vleeta on Tobias Cooks! (cooked Greek amaranth greens salad)
- Wilted Vlita with Feta Cheese on Porcini Chronicles (Vlita is a Greek name for amaranth greens)
- Amaranth with Scorthalia on Greek Food Recipes and Reflections (Scorthalia is a traditional garlic sauce)
- Horta Vrasta: Boiled Leafy Green Salad on About.com (Use amaranth greens where it says “dark leafy greens”)
- Sayur Bayam on Indonesian Culinary a la Fie (Use amaranth greens in place of spinach)**
- Fried Bayam on Home Cooked Recipe (Use amaranth greens in place of spinach)**
- Sajor Bayam on YumYum.com (Bayam-Corn Puree — use amaranth greens in place of spinach)**
*Both amaranth greens and taro are referred to and used as “callaloo” and they can be substituted for each other. Callaloo soup is also called Pepperpot Soup. There are other regional recipes referred to as “pepperpot soup” but this is the Creole or Caribbean one.
**”Bayam” is another term for amaranth greens. Most Americanized “bayam” recipes use spinach as an amaranth green substitute. You simply need to reverse the recipe again to use the original amaranth in it.