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Guatemalan Amaranth and Vegetable Soup

Ever had amaranth? Its seeds are cooked and used like a grain, much like quinoa. Recognized for its high nutritional value, the leaves are also edible, like this healthy soup shared with us today by Asociación de Mujeres Ixpiyakok (or Ixpiyakok Women’s Association, ADEMI), a new Thousand Currents grantee in Guatemala.

On a recent site visit, Thousand Currents Regional Director of Latin America Katherine Zavala learned about ADEMI’s transformation over the decades working to improve indigenous women’s livelihoods in the northern part of Chimaltenango. 

ADEMI began in 1984 when 30 indigenous Mayan widows who had lost their husbands to Guatemala’s civil war came together to form an organization that could address a pressing need: children’s health. They set out to ensure children were eating nutritious diets, which initially started with the idea of educating women in the cultivation of local varieties of fruits and vegetables.

However, during Guatemala’s long civil war, freedom of expression and assembly was under constant threat. The military would frequently invade their meetings to check in on them. For the following 10 years, they kept their work to very specific, short-term projects that looked more like charity instead of the transformational social change they were seeking to create.

Once the army’s surveillance waned in 1995, ADEMI was finally able to create long-term strategies of improving women’s livelihoods. Over the past 20 years, ADEMI has been building programs for indigenous women to train and practice agroecology.

Amaranth has deep historical roots of resistance. Another Thousand Currents grantee in Guatemala, AFEDES, also shared an amaranth recipe for our “30 days” campaign. They shared that the colonizing Spaniards banned amaranth’s “pagan” cultivation and consumption. They ordered that the crops were burned or destroyed and ordered the hands cut off of people who were caught in possession or cultivation of grain. But it was kept alive by small farmers who secretly kept and cultivated the seeds to preserve it.

When Katherine traveled to the community of Palamá village, just one area where ADEMI works, she was able to learn about how ADEMI has been working with communities to build food sovereignty and livelihood alternatives.

“When it came to lunch, the group of women [that work with ADEMI] proudly showcased their range of crops, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, squash, local herbs, etc., which they had cultivated and cooked for our visit,” Katherine Zavala, Regional Director of Latin America

“Fifteen indigenous women from the community welcomed me, eager to show me their backyard gardens filled with organic crops. They also led me to a small hut where they kept their community seed banks.”

This recipe is just one of many in a cookbook ADEMI has created in efforts to revive customs that have been lost, taking account which foods are produced locally and what’s in season. The recipes come from the public health promoters with whom ADEMI works, who provide nutrition trainings in the communities.

Amaranth and Vegetable Soup

1 handful of amaranth leaves
coriander to taste
1 chayote squash
2 large potatoes
1 head of a small onion
3 tomatoes
salt to taste

Boil a liter of water. Cut the amaranth leaves and wash before cooking. Chop the chayote, potato, and tomatoes. Once the water is boiling, add the amaranth leaves. Place on high heat for faster cooking. Add the coriander. First add the chayote, as it takes longer to cook. Then the potato, the onion, and tomato, which add a pleasant flavor. Add salt to taste. Once the vegetables are cooked, remove from heat and serve.

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