Last weekend I made chocolate alegria, and as a result my day instantly became a joyous one.
Alegria is a traditional Mexican desert made from popped amaranth and honey. It’s one of the simplest, quickest, most nutritious and fun snacks you can make.
As I’ve mentioned before in my post for fig and amaranth breakfast bake, amaranth is an ancient pseudo-grain (simply meaning that it’s a seed from a different family as most grains), and is commonly considered a super-food. With good reason too, as one of few grains that provide complete protein, containing all necessary essential amino acids -including lycene, an amino acid uncommon to most grains- and providing a good source of iron and magnesium.
The word Alegria is Spanish for “Joy”. When I first heard this I assumed that it was because amaranth was such a vital part of the Aztec diet and culture, with Alegria playing a role in traditional celebrations, but then when I made it I found how joyous this snack really is.
I am quite a big fan of popping grains. Popcorn, obviously, is one of my favourites, but really, these days I’ll have a go at popping anything. The last time I had tried to pop amaranth, however, was years ago before I could cook, in a time when I was a bit of an inept liability in the kitchen. On that fateful day I tried to pop amaranth in an air popper but (amaranth being a tiny grain, and the air popper of questionable quality) the grains instantly poured into the guts of the machine and -either the grains, the machine, or both- began to burn, filling the kitchen of my tiny apartment with smoke, and destroying the ill-fated popper. Needless to say this put me off the whole popped amaranth thing for quite some time.
But ever since trying to make popped millet for another recipe, I’ve been quite taken with the whole thing. It turns out that the air popper idea was a terrible one (if I hadn’t realized that before) and that it’s actually insanely easy to pop grains in a pot. Most grains will pop a bit, but amaranth, I’ve discovered, really pops! Enter the joy. I challenge anyone having a grumpy day to pop some amaranth and not be filled with glee. I think it’s impossible. As the tiny grains crackle and ping around being transformed into fluffy popped loveliness, it is joyous indeed. Now the name alegria really makes sense.
To pop amaranth:
- Put a pot on the stove over medium to medium-high heat, and leave it until it’s quite hot… this is important, if the pot’s not hot enough the grains will just slowly burn rather than popping. If it is hot enough, they’ll start to pop nearly the instant that you put them in.
- Add one Tbsp of grains, cover it with a lid (a glass one if you can as watching it is half the fun) and shake the pot around as the popping’s going on to stop them from burning.
- Once the popping slows down, tip the popped grains into a large bowl and repeat with the next Tbsp. Doing the grains a Tbsp at a time allows them to pop evenly without burning, so don’t be tempted to add much more than that at once (they pop really quickly, so it won’t take long.)
And that’s it! You can use your popped amaranth in cereal, baking, or in this case in alegria.
Making the alegria is simple. It is just the popped grains stuck together with something sticky, usually honey, although I’ve heard that traditionally this was made with a kind of raw sugar known as rapadura, and I have read that maple syrup works really well too. Often alegria has other things added into the mix, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and chocolate all seem to be fairly common additions.
So for my first go at alegria I decided on chocolate alegria with cocoa and chocolate chips! (A shocker I know…if there’s a way to incorporate chocolate I will). I LOVE this recipe. When I first tasted it I knew it was good, but then when I’d eaten all of it in about a millisecond, I realized just how good it is.
The fact that it’s extraordinarily delicious, angelically healthy, and an uplifting joy to make, means that chocolate alegria is destined to be one of the real regulars of my recipe repetoire. Be warned though…it is seriously addictive.
- 115g or 1/2 cup of amaranth
- 3 Tbsp of honey heated up a bit so that it’s easily pourable
- 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- A pinch of salt
- 75g or 1/3 cup of dark chocolate chips
- Prepare a square baking tin by lining it with baking parchment.
- Place a medium pot over medium-high heat and allow it to heat up for a few minutes.
- Add a Tbsp of the amaranth to the hot pot, cover with a lid and keep the pot moving while the grains pop. Once the popping slows down remove the lid and pour the popped grains into a large bowl. The pot is hot enough if the grains begin to pop within a few seconds. If it’s longer than that, it’s not hot enough and the grains will burn before popping.
- Repeat the popping process a Tbsp at a time until you’ve popped all of the grain.
- In a small jug or a cup, combine the honey, cocoa, salt, and vanilla. Stir well until there are no lumps of cocoa remaining.
- Pour the honey mixture over the popped amaranth and add the chocolate chips. Stir well until everything is evenly coated.
- Tip the mixture into the lined tin and press it evenly and firmly, the same as if you were making a biscuit base for a pie. When you’re finished you want the amaranth to feel firm and not crumbly.
- Carefully remove the alegria from the tin and cut into squares.
- Keep in an airtight container someplace cool for about a week.