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Budget friendly alternative to organic spinach: amaranth leaves

September 6, 2011

Spinach is one of my favorite greens to eat. Sadly, I always have to buy these organic because of the high amount of pesticides in them. That can get expensive considering I can only get 5 quickly-eaten servings of spinach in 1 pound, and a pound of spinach at its cheapest costs $3.00-$3.50 at Costco. Even at my local farmer’s markets and small produce shops, I can only seem to find bundles of mature spinach weighing 1/3 of a pound for $0.99 at the cheapest.

This is where being Chinese comes in handy. Introducing: amaranth leaves. I used to love these leaves as a kid because it would dye my rice pink due to the purple/pink hue on the green leaves. Plus I loved the taste, which is very similar to that of cooked spinach leaves.

Nutritionally, it is comparable to that of spinach. In 100g of raw amaranth leaves, you have 23 calories: 0.3g fat, 4g carbs (of which I would estimate 2g are fibers), 2.5g protein, 58% Vitamin A, 72% Vitamin C, 22% calcium, and 13% iron. Compare that to spinach with similar macronutrients, 188% Vitamin A (who needs that much anyway?), 47% Vitamin C, 10% calcium, and 15% iron. And the awesome part is, it is also a complete protein, supplying all the necessary amino acids your body needs in one go!

Now before you start jumping up and down and start combing Google Maps for the nearest Chinese grocery store, I do want to clarify some things. First, Chinese groceries do not specify if the greens they get are organic. You have to inspect the leaves at the store. If you take a look at the picture of my greens, you can see that some of the leaves have sizable holes in them. That means that the bugs were healthy enough to keep noshing on the leaves, and therefore it is safe for you to consume as well.

Secondly, you have to be willing to do some work. This is not going to be like buying a pack of baby spinach and using them right from the bag. You’re going to have to earn it by taking the leaves off the stem. Good thing is, it doesn’t take too long, and you can wash dry with a salad spinner after submerging in water and giving it a good shake back and forth in the water. Overall prep time? Probably two minutes per pound if you’re like my mom, and five to ten minutes per pound if you’re like me.

These bunches of amaranth range from $0.79/lb to $0.99/lb at the nearest grocers from where I live in Norcal, so definitely a cheaper alternative to spinach, even with the stems counting as part of the pound.

To cook amaranth leaves, I usually do the basic stir fry with a bunch of garlic, as stated in the recipe below:

1 pound amaranth leaves including stems, with stems removed
4 cloves garlic
1-2 Tablespoons of choice of cooking fat (I use butter or olive oil)
Salt to taste

(1) Heat the fat on high and add garlic until fragrant and slightly browned.
(2) Add spinach leaves and cover immediately. Allow leaves to wilt slightly, about 2 minutes.
(3) Turn the heat to medium and continue to stir leaves and garlic until almost fully wilted. Add salt and turn off the heat. Let rest and serve.

Hope you enjoy this budget-friendly yet delicious and healthy alternative to spinach as much as I have! I know it will work well as a substitute in other dishes, such as omelets, quiche, and maybe even spinach artichoke dip!

Dai Dai

  1. Andy Mangan permalink

    I love this green! But have not found it in the US, only in Shanghai. Where can I get it in Connecticut?

    • I’m not so sure because I live on the west coast, where there are more Asians and more Asian supermarkets. Are there any Asian grocers nearby where you live? I see amaranth at pretty much every Asian grocery store I go to.

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