Friday, October 3, 2008

Amaranth Cakes with creamy mushrooms

Hey Ya'll...

It's time for recipe number 3 y'all! My friend Curtis came by tonight for dinner and our monthly Scrabble game. Curtis is a vegetarian, so it's always a bit challenging to come up with creative meals that aren't just a bunch of side dishes masquerading as an actual meal.

When I'm looking for veggie meals, the first place I check is the Vegetarian Times website. They usually have some good recipes and they aren't necessarily a rigid, super health conscious vegetarian site (ie they're vegetarian, but not hippy, dippy, crunchy granola)... it's more about the taste and using interesting and innovative ingredients. So I was looking through the site and stumbled upon this recipe for Amaranth Cakes with Mushrooms.

Amaranth is another one of those grains that most people don't really know about or cook with. Amaranth Grain (according to Wiki) is a very hardy grain that was a staple food among the Incas, Aztecs and other native peoples of Mexico and is also cultivated in Guatemala, Peru, India and Nepal. Amaranth grain is becoming more popular in developing nations because it is inexpensive, easily harvested and, much like quinoa, Amaranth is complete protein , and is a good source of fiber and a variety of minerals.

Ok... that's enough with the history of amaranth. .... You make the amaranth cakes basically the same way as polenta is made. You cook the grain down into a mush in a broth of mushroom juice, shallots and some spices and then you fry into like pancake type things.

In order to make the broth, you had to soak some dried mushrooms. The mushroom water would be used as broth and the reconstituted mushrooms were chopped up to be added to the amaranth mix before cooking. I was being cheap when I bought the mushrooms, so I didn't buy the dried porcinis that were $5.99 for like 2 ounces at Whole foods... instead I bought some Nameko Mushrooms... which were like $3.99 for a big pack. I actually had never heard of a Nameko mushrooms, but on the back of the bag it listed a website like, "" or something like that, so I just figured they were a type of porcinis.... i think I was wrong... I don't think they were porcini's, but they were definitely nasty. Bleh. I soaked them in boiling water for about 20 minutes and just tasted the water... it tasted like musky dirt... like bitter, musky dirt.... and you were supposed to cook the amaranth in the mushroom juice so that the amaranth cakes would take on the taste of the mushroom... Being that the mushroom juice tasted like ass, I wasn't too keen on cooking the amaranth in it or chopping up the reconstituted mushroom (which also tasted like ass) to go into the amaranth mix. I thought about cooking the amaranth in some broth, but I only had chicken broth on hand, which wouldn't work with a vegetarian meal... so I went ahead and cooked the amarnth in the smelly mushroom juice... I figured I could always just add some salt... salt makes everything better!

So while the amaranth/musky dirt water mix was simmering I went about making the mushroom topping. The Veggie Times recipe included the recipe for the mushroom topping, but I decided to use the topping from an appetizer I had made for a holiday party. The mushroom topping was basically shallots, garlic, lots of mushrooms, heavy cream, fontina and parmesean cheese. MMMMMHMMM! I also added some sherry, which is always good with mushrooms.

After the mushroom mix was done it was time to fry up the cakes... I tried the amaranth/dirty water mix... it tasted a little bitter, but not as bad as I expected, so I just added some salt and lots of thyme.. and little sherry. .. i wasn't quite as nasty then. The frying didn't quite go as planned... he cakes kept on falling apart in the oil, butI got a couple nice ones... I think next time I'll use a metal spatula.

I also roasted up some carrots and made a little zucchini to go with the mushroom cakes.

All in all it came out really well! Curtis seemed to really like it! The topping was delicious and the creamy, savory mushrooms were actually a really good compliment for the nutty/dusty flavor of the amaranth cakes. The only change I would make if I were to make it again would be to grind the amaranth before cooking them so the mixture would be more polenta like and less graand zucchini made the meal look better on the plate, but it would have been nice if theiny. I would also buy the right type of mushrooms, or maybe use some dried Shitaakes from China town... Also I think the mushroom/cake could use a little more color. When the mushrooms cooked down they looked like purple/brown mushroom mush... not too appetizing. The carrots re was even a small sprinkle of color in the mushrooms.

Overall I give the dish a solid B. I'm not sure if I would make it at home for myself, but with the above changes I think it would be a viable option for another vegetarian meal.

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