Happy Thursday, everybody! I hope this post finds you happy and well, wherever you are planted. It is absolutely gorgeous weather here –more like my native SF Bay Area weather than East Texas. I try to avoid the air conditioner as late in the spring as possible here, but sometimes that has meant mid-March, so the fact that the windows in the house are still open, with sunshine and cool breezes in abundance, is thrilling.
It is also ideal running weather, which is sweet indeed, since I am training for another race: The San Francisco Marathon, on July 23rd. I fly back with Nick & Kevin every summer, to visit family, escape the heat (I heart fog), and soak up some California, so I thought, why not add a marathon? Because I am crazy that way 🙂
And speaking of crazy, I am nutty about these Popped Amaranth Energy Bars.
I am going to post a handful of amaranth recipes in the next few days because it is (a) delicious, (b) versatile, (c) affordable, typically $3.50-$4/lb, (d) high in protein, and (e) great fuel for runners, including anyone and everyone who spends their days running around doing the millions of things that need to be done. That’s definitely all of you. It’s simply a great food, so let’s begin with these bars.
Amaranth is a super grain, plain and simple. The ancient Aztecs revered it, attributing their stamina and endurance to the tiny seeds, and the praise was justified: amaranth is high in protein (almost a complete protein), a good source of iron, high in fiber (i.e., it will keep you feeling full), naturally gluten-free, and an excellent way to get the carbohydrates your body craves (make that screams for!) while also acquiring multiple micronutrients. The flavor is mild, but when popped, it has a warm, nutty taste. Love.
My popped bars make snacking on amaranth easy and convenient. I’ve limited the ingredients to five: amaranth grain, dried fruit (I used cranberries), nuts or seeds (pistachios for me), the creamy nut or seed butter of your choice, and brown rice syrup (honey also works, if you are not vegan; maple syrup is not sticky enough to hold the bars together).
To bind the bars, heat the nut or seed butter of your choice along with the brown rice syrup. Heat it until it is bubbling, then remove it from the heat (it can seize up and dry out if left on the heat for too long). Immediately scrape this mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix away, coating everything.
Next, scrape everything into the prepared pan, distributing the mixture as best you can with a spoon or spatula. Then, a trick: lightly coat a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap with cooking spray and place, sprayed side down, onto the mixture. Use your hands to firmly press and compact the mixture into the pan. Press hard! If you have another pan (square, or a small loaf pan), press it into the bars to further compact. This will help the bars stay together.
After a brief stay in the refrigerator, they are ready to be cut into bars.
Subtly sweet and nutty, these are everything I–and you– want for a quick breakfast or snack on the go.
I made quick work of two of them after my early morning long run this past Saturday (a long drive to Houston for a 2-day little league baseball tournament followed; I needed some spectator endurance). I was happily sated and energized until 1 pm (although I should mention that a large thermos full of coffee was also involved/essential).
Happy fueling, everyone!
- 2 cups popped amaranth (about ½ cup unpopped--see below)
- ¼ cup (packed) dried cranberries, chopped
- ¼ cup shelled pistachios (roasted or raw), chopped
- ½ cup almond butter
- ½ cup brown rice syrup
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Optional: a few drops vanilla or almond extract, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ginger or allspice
- Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper, allowing an overhang on opposite sides.
- In a large bowl, combine the popped amaranth, cranberries, and pistachios.
- In a small saucepan, combine the almond butter, brown rice syrup and salt. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in optional flavorings, if desired, then immediately pour over amaranth mixture, stirring to coat.
- Scrape mixture into prepared pan. Very firmly tamp down mixture (using a second pan).
- Loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Use the parchment overhang to remove bars from pan. Cut into 12 bars.
Bar Storage: Store the bars in an airtight container for 2 weeks at room temperature, 1 month in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer.