Recipe of the Week
In the Aztec diet, amaranth was second in importance only to corn. In festivals to honor the gods, toasted amaranth grain was mixed with maize, honey, and sometimes blood and shaped into idols of gods before being paraded through the streets, “sacrificed” into pieces, and distributed among the crowd to be eaten.
The conquistadors regarded this practice as a blasphemous parody of the Christian communion and outlawed its cultivation. Today these honeyed sweets, called tzoalli in Nahuatl by the ancient Aztecs, are known as alegrías, the Spanish word for happiness.
¼ cup amaranth seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon lime juice
Pop the amaranth. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Place a tablespoon of amaranth into the bottom of the dry pan, and cover with a lid. Turn off the heat and shake pot vigorously to keep the amaranth from sticking. After 20 seconds or so the amaranth should be popped. It’s ok if there are some un-popped grains. Pour the popped amaranth into a bowl. Repeat until all the amaranth is popped.
Mix the pumpkin seeds and raisins with the popped amaranth.
Place the honey in a saucepan. Heat over medium, mixing well, until a syrup forms. Mix in the lime juice and salt. Turn off heat.
Pour the amaranth mixture into the syrup and mix quickly so that the mixture absorbs the syrup. Pour onto a pan lined with parchment paper and press to flatten. Place another sheet of parchment over the amaranth and flatten to smooth the surface.
Let cool until firm and cut into rounds or rectangles.
Makes about 4 pieces
Native to subtropical America, avocados have been cultivated in Mexico since antiquity; the fruit’s seeds that have been found in archaeological sites in modern day Puebla dating to 8000 BC. Avocado was part of the ancient daily diet along with maize, beans, and squash. The Nahuatl (Aztec language) word for the fruit is ahuacatl, meaning testicle, because of its shape. Naturally it was believed to have properties of virility.
Learn about the history of chocolate in Chocolate Unwrapped: From a Mesoamerican Drink to the Modern Bon Bon, on Life & Thyme.
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large ripe avocados (8 ounces each), halved and pitted
1 cup 70% dark chocolate chips
cacao nibs for garnish
Combine water, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and salt in small saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar and cocoa dissolve, about 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and cover to keep warm.
Scoop flesh of avocados into food processor bowl and process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. With processor running, slowly add warm cocoa mixture until completely incorporated and mixture is smooth and glossy. (This can also be done in a bowl using a fork and a whisk.)
Melt the chocolate. Place it in a wide shallow bowl and microwave. Heat on medium high for about 1 minute to start with. Remove and stir. Repeat, heating at 15-second intervals stirring in between, until melted and smooth. You can also melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Heat a small pot with several inches of water. Place the chocolate in a bowl and set over the pot, making sure the surface of the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir occasionally until completely melted.
Add the melted chocolate to the avocado mixture and process until well incorporated, about 1 minute. Evenly transfer pudding to 8 ramekins, cover, and refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Garnish with cacao nibs and serve.
Platina, in his 1474 Renaissance cookbook, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, writes on sugar – Sugar comes not only from Arabia and India but also from Crete and Sicily. Pliny calls it the honey collected from cane. The whiter it is, the better. It is good for the stomach and soothes whatever discomforts there are. By melting it, we make hazelnuts and many other things into sweets.
¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup ground hazelnuts
1 stick butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup milk, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Butter and flour an 8×2 ½-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and ground hazelnuts together until well combined. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs and egg yolk one at a time, fully incorporating each into the mixture and stopping to scrape down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.
Slowly add the flour in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a spatula.
Bake for about 28 to 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cake rest for about 10 minutes before unmolding. Remove the parchment and cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve with fresh blackberries or raspberries.
Serves 8 to 10