Alegría: The Happiest of Snacks
Rancho Gordo's beautiful amaranth seeds.
Minerva Orduño Rincón
The beauty and taste of food may be half in how you describe it and what you name it. In that case, the simple Mexican snack called alegría (happiness or joy), may be one of the most beautiful foods available.
Learn how to make your own happiness.
With only a handful of ingredients, alegrías are simple snacks that tell much of the history of Mexico. Amaranth seeds, the main ingredient in alegrías, were once a staple food in pre-Columbian diets and deeply tied to religious ceremonies. This simple food survived banning by the Catholic Church and continues to be a popular snack in Mexico. It's also gaining foothold in the United States, thanks to its high nutritional content. Alegrías are full of iron, magnesium, vitamin B-6, protein, and fiber.
Minerva Orduño Rincón
1 pound amaranth seeds 1 ½ cups sugar 2 cups water ½ cup honey ½ cup mix of raisins, chia seeds, dried apricots, etc. (optional) ½ teaspoon sea salt 1 star anise or ¼ teaspoon of fennel seeds
Toast the amaranth seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until golden and some popping occurs. Be sure to shake continuously or they will burn. In a pot large enough to also accommodate the amaranth comfortably, cook the sugar, water, honey, sea salt and star anise until it becomes a thick syrup, or reaches 245 degrees on a candy thermometer. Strain out the star anise or fennel seeds.
Spray a baking tray with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper. Add the toasted amaranth seeds to the syrup, as well any desired dry fruit, and stir well using a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat, and stir until well incorporated. Pour the mixture onto the baking tray and press flat and even with a metal spatula. Allow to cool slightly, and cut into small squares. Wrap them tightly with plastic wrap, and spread the alegría.
Amaranth seeds may be purchased online through Rancho Gordo. Pre-made alegrias can easily be found in your neighborhood Mexican grocery store, for if you need a quick pick me up.
Minerva Orduño Rincón dreams of a day when Mexican cuisine begins to get the respect it rightfully deserves, a goal she trying to help along with Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food. Until then, she is saucier at Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.