Amaranth Leaves – aka Vlita
Vlita is the Greek name for amaranthus viridis, or slim amaranth, a green that grows wild in gardens all over Greece in the summer. There are about 60 varieties of amaranth throughout the world, at least one of which is cultivated for its seeds. In the U.S. most people know amaranth as the [gluten-free] Peruvian grain that has taken health-conscious consumers by storm the last few years. Greeks eat the leaves, not the seeds.
The main varieties in Greece are the red-leafed variety, sometimes known as “agrio” or wild amaranth, which has wide, reddish leaves; and the green variety, which is cultivated and sold in markets all over the country from late June through September.
Like all leafy greens, amaranth is boiled for salads, which are served either hot or cold and dressed with olive oil and either lemon juice or vinegar. At the height of summer, especially in Aegean islands, they are simmered together with zucchini. Other Greek recipes with amaranth include braising the leaves with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil; cooking them with runner beans or potatoes; and turning them into filling to be baked between layers of filo pastry, either commercial or home-made. In Rhodes, classic Greek summer dish is for amaranth stewed with purslane.
Amaranth is packed with nutrients:
- For one, it contains five times the amount of calcium as milk and 30 percent more protein (with complete amino acids) than wheat, rye, rice, or oats – that makes it a great addition to the diet of anyone with celiac disease and of vegetarians.
- Its high protein content also helps reduce insulin levels in the blood, staving off hunger and binging in anyone trying to watch his or her weight.
- It is also rich in dietary fiber, carbohydrates, vitamin K, folate, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin C and is a terrific source of manganese, iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus necessary for maintaining proper mineral balance in the body.
- It reduces bad cholesterol and is five times richer in iron than wheat!