By Naini Setalvad
Our ancestors knew what they were doing when they selected food for fasting, learn more about Rajgira, one of the fasting food
Psst, the next superfood is here. But hey, don’t hare off to the nearest health food or fancy mall. This superfood is a deep and endemic part of Indian culture and is available at every humble grocer’s shop. We are talking about the amaranth grain. It goes by the name of rajgira in the west and ramdana in the north.
We Indians have been partaking of this ubiquitous food item for centuries, particularly during fasts where its flour is fashioned into rotis and puris. Though commonly thought of as a grain, rajgira is, in fact, the seed of a leafy green vegetable, amaranth, a super-food in its own right. In India this vegetable goes by the name of chauli (north) cheera (Kerala) and thotakora (Andhra). The amaranth plant grows wild and is presently enjoying a revival of interest for the following reasons: It is easily harvested. It produces a lot of fruits (and thus seeds) which are used as grain. It is highly tolerant of arid environments which are typical of most subtropical and some tropical regions, and it contains large amounts of protein and essential amino acids, such as lysine. Due to its weedy life history, amaranth grains grow very rapidly and their large seedheads can weigh up to 1 kilogram and contain a half-million seeds.
The grains are reported to have a 30 per cent higher protein value body ~ super food than cereals, such as rice, wheat flour, oats, and rye.
A part of Mexican cuisine, amaranth was one of the staple foodstuffs of the Incas, and it is known as kiwicha in the Andes today. It was also used by the ancient Aztecs, who called it huautli, and other native America peoples in Mexico prepare ritual drinks and foods out of it. To this day, amaranth grains are toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a treat called alegría (joy in spanish)
In India, rajgira lends itself to delicious and wholesome ladoos, and chikkis. Amaranth is packed with healthy nutrients like fibre, iron, and protein. It also has three times the fibre of wheat. It is gluten-free, and a good source of starch and energy.
The flour made from rajgira seeds is rich in calcium, magnesium, folate, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, C and e, and antioxidants. Amaranth also helps reduce bad cholesterol. People have also found it beneficial to prevent the premature greying of the hair.
It is a versatile food and can be made into pastas, breads, porridges, and chapatis. The seeds can be tossed into salads and soups. Amaranth can be cooked like rice. simply use a 1:3 ratio of the grain to water. Amaranth flour, which has a pleasant, nutty taste, can also be used in place of regular flour for baking; substitute one-quarter cup of amaranth for every cup of wheat flour.
You can make bread, muffins, bagels, pasta, milk, imitation nut butter, cookies, gravies, sauces, pancakes, flatbreads, doughnuts, dumpl ings, and who knows what else…
Truly, a superfood, amaranth is worth eating not only during fasts but also all year round!
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