Amaranth Quesadillas

Quesadillas, as most people know them, are a study in cheese.  A white flour tortilla with a few onions, a sprinkle of jalapeños and perhaps a a few tomatoes, kernels of corn or fresh cilantro held together with oozing melted cheese. As an occasional culinary distraction this may sound good, but it is not something to eat everyday–perhaps something to eat when stranded on an island without anything else.

My Amaranth Quesadillas have provocative flavors and a creamy texture–without the dairy. They make excellent appetizers, party snacks or light meals. I made this recipe for lunch recently after a Hillcrest Farmers Market shopping trip.  All the vegetables I used for the quesadillas were what I had just purchased, fresh and fragrant.  The tortillas I choose are locally-made, par-cooked Mama Cesana Wheat Tortillas.  A quick heat on the grill cooks them up nicely and adds a favorable carbon flavor.  It is possible to do the same grill treatment with pre-cooked tortillas, but only to bring them back to a fresh-cooked state.

Amaranth is considered one of nature’s super-foods and is used in tropical and temperate climates around the world, especially India.  I first experienced it during an early summer trip to Crete as a green called “vleeta,” used by the Greeks in Horta (boiled greens).  The variety commonly used there is a green one.

Similar to buckwheat and quinoa, the Amaranth seed grains are without gluten and have unusually complete proteins. Like spinach, it has a high oxalic acid content Hopi Indians used red color-producing plant as a clothes dye.  If red amaranth is not available, spinach, lacinato kale, lamb’s quarters or mache would work well for this recipe.

Makes 4 quesadillas

Amaranth
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sweet onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 bunch red amaranth, large stems removed, chopped (3 cups)
Using a 10 to 12 inch skillet on medium heat, cook oil, onion and garlic until the onions are clear around the edges.  Add the amaranth and cook until the stems are tender.  Reserve.
Peppers
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sweet onions, finely diced
1 cup green bell peppers, finely diced
1 tablespoon jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Using a 12 inch skillet on medium heat, cook oil, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos until the onions are clear around the edges. Add sea salt, transfer and reserve.

Pesto
3/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teapoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until a coarse pesto consistency. Reserve.

Salsa

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sweet onion, minced
1 tablespoon jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1 cup fresh tomato, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
In a small sauce pan on medium heat, cook oil, garlic, onion and jalapeño.  Cook until the onion is turning clear around the edges, then add the tomato, sea salt and vinegar.  Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until tomatoes are cooked, then stir in the cilantro and turn off.  Reserve.
Garnish
1 avocado sliced into small cubes
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

4 whole wheat tortilla flat breads, 10 to 12 inches in diameter
3 tablespoons olive oil
Lay a tortilla on a flat and clean surface and spread 2 tablespoons pesto mixture on one half of the tortilla.  Spread 1/4 cup amaranth mixture evenly on top of the pesto.  Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons pepper mixture evenly across the amaranth.  Fold the tortilla to a half moon shape.  Repeat with three more tortillas. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12 inch skillet on medium heat.  Cook two quesadillas at a time and add more oil as necessary.  Lightly brown on one side and turn over to brown the other side. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into triangles.  Serve with salsa and avocado garnish.

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