When I lived in Mexico, I loved to eat a tasty treat that sort of tasted like sweet popcorn, except the grains were tiny and had no kernel. Fast forward 16 years later, and I’m reading online about how this grain called amaranth is so good for you, and it’s a great vegan staple to have in your diet, as it is a complete protein. So, I went to the store and bought some.
I was going to go home and cook it like I do with quinoa, and see how the grain tastes using it the same way as I do quinoa. When I did a search online on how to cook amaranth, I found out that one way to do it is to “puff” the grains, one tablespoon at a time, in a large pan with a cover. When I did it myself and then tasted the end product, I realized that this was the same grain they use in Mexico called “Alegria” candy! Alegria, literally meaning happy, certainly lived up to its name, as I was ecstatic that I found the grain exists here in the US, and touted as a great protein on top of it!
Of course, I set out to make my own vegan version of Alegria bars, which seemed easy at first, but took 3 tries to finally get. Apparently it’s not as easy to melt maple syrup down to the right consistency that will hold candy together with dried fruits and nuts in it! But, I managed to do it anyway.
This recipe is fun to make, but it does take some time to pop all the amaranth. The good thing is that you can caramelize the maple syrup at the same time you are popping the amaranth, so you can multitask with the preparations. One side note about this recipe is that it is SWEET! If you love sweets (and maple syrup), then this is the recipe for you! If sweets aren’t your thing, then there are a lot of other recipes on my blog that will work better for you 🙂
So, without further ado…let us begin!
You will need:
- a large deep dish pan with a lid (this is a requirement for popping the amaranth)
- 7 tbsp uncooked amaranth (this turns into approximately 2 cups of popped amaranth)
- 1 cup maple syrup (make sure this is good quality, real maple syrup! Not some Aunt Jemima processed maple syrup, it needs to be grade A or grade B)
- 1/2 cup coconut flakes
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries or goji berries
- small pot for boiling maple syrup
- parchment paper and a 10 inch dish to place the candy in
First you want to start by popping the amaranth. Make sure that you get this down first before starting on the maple syrup. Put your pan on the stove and heat on medium high heat. Test the heat by throwing on a few grains of amaranth. If the grains pop, then the pan is hot enough. If not, then leave it to heat up some more.
Once you think the pan is hot enough, measure out 1 tablespoon of amaranth, and distribute evenly throughout the pan. Do not puff more than 1 tablespoon at a time, or you will end up with lots of burned kernels and not enough puffed. I know because I tried this.
Put the lid on your pan and watch the kernels pop like popcorn. It’s really quite fun to experience! You will know when the kernels are done as, just like popcorn, the popping sound will start to die down. Place the popped amaranth into a large mixing bowl.
Note: if you notice too man burned grains, turn your heat down to medium. Usually you can pop them on a lower heat if you keep your pan on the burner.
Once you got the hang of your amaranth popping, you can start on the maple syrup candy. Put the cup of maple syrup on the stove, and turn the heat on medium high. Bring the maple syrup to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low, and keep a slow boil going for about ten minutes.
You will know when the maple syrup is done when you do the “candy” test. Take out a cold cup of water ( a cup of water with a few ice cubes will do the trick), and drip a couple drops of the maple syrup mix into the water. If the maple syrup runs down like string, or starts to come apart, it’s not ready yet. As soon as the maple syrup falls into the cup as little balls and does not come apart, then the maple syrup is ready and you can turn off the heat.
This will usually take the whole time to pop the amaranth, so the maple syrup should be done at the same time the amaranth is.
Once the amaranth is all done popping, add the pumpkin seeds and dried fruit, and mix together.
Next, pour the maple syrup over the mixture, and mix the whole thing together, making sure to coat all the dried kernels. The mix should be sticky and you could almost form a ball with it. If it is too dry, then you need more maple syrup. If it’s too wet, you need more amaranth.
Once everything is mixed, put into a small round or square ten inch pan. If you cover the pan with parchment paper, then it will be easy to pop out once the mixture hardens.
Press the mix into the pan, making sure to get all the air out and making sure that every corner is covered and layered evenly. Once the mix is all in the pan, put in the fridge to cool, about 45 minutes or so.
After 45 minutes, the mix should be hardened and ready to eat! You can pop the candy out of the pan easily by manipulating the parchment paper. The candy is also easy to break apart, but if you want to be neat, cut slices in the wet mixture before putting it into the fridge, so it will be easy to separate after.
Serve immediately and watch your friends marvel at your amazing dessert!
This candy goes great with some coffee or tea, or as an afternoon snack!