Did you know that agriculture — the planting and harvesting of crops — has been around for some ten thousand years? That sure provides some context for the term “ancient grains.” Millet, by all accounts, is one of those oldies but goodies. In fact, it was one of the first grains to ever be cultivated by man and dates back as far as 5,500 BC in China!
The word “millet” actually refers to at least five different unrelated species that vary in color and taste. Farmers here in the U.S. grow a variety called “yellow proso.” It’s hulled or pearled, but the bran remains intact. If you’ve never seen it before, it looks a lot like tiny yellow, round beads. Although we mostly associate it with bird seed, it’s a staple for many people around the world including those in Africa, China and India. Small though it is, it’s packed with good nutrition. Millet is almost as high in protein as wheat. It also delivers niacin, magnesium, copper, manganese and zinc.
If you will be trying millet for the first time, you are in for a real treat. Its light, delicate flavor makes it perfect for just about anything. I love it hot as a breakfast cereal or served up pilaf-style as a side dish. Because it’s mild, it takes well to spices, herbs and seasonings. It’s very simple to prepare too! Here’s a general recipe for cooking millet:
- 1 cup millet
- 1 cup water
- Pinch of salt
Combine millet, water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, keep it covered and let it stand for another 20 minutes before fluffing with a fork. (For a toasty, nutty flavor and to keep the grains light and dry, toast the millet in a dry skillet over medium to medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes before cooking.)
And here are some ideas for cooking with millet:
- Start with something easy and delicious, like this Basic Millet with Onion and Parsley.
- Use as a hot breakfast cereal; add dried or fresh fruit, milk or non-dairy milk, and a teaspoon of butter or flaxseed oil, or a handful of toasted nuts. Here’s one of my favorites: Millet Breakfast Cereal with Mandarin Oranges and Dates.
- Cook a pot of millet. While it’s cooking, sauté veggies such as onion, tomato, mushrooms, etc. Stir into hot millet.
- Create a refreshing, cool grain salad, like this Tomato, Basil and Millet Salad.
- Cook up a hearty salad like this Warm Millet Salad with Brussels Sprouts, Creamed Mushrooms and Sage.
- Add one or two tablespoons of toasted, dry millet to muffins, quick breads and scones for a healthy crunch factor. Here’s a good start with Pumpkin and Millet Muffins.
- Stuff flavored millet into peppers and bake away. Or serve Curried Stuffed Peppers Over Millet.
- Use cooked millet in place of rice in many dishes. Great served as bed for stir-fried shrimp, chicken, beef or tofu.
- Try it in this simple one pot dish of Chicken Millet Skillet.
- Make millet “mashed potatoes” – cook 1 cup millet in 3 cups water with a little salt. Simmer, covered for up to an hour or until water is absorbed. Mash like potatoes with milk and butter.
- Add millet to soups and stews in place of rice or noodles.
Millet comes in flour form too. You can replace 30% of your all purpose flour with an equal amount of millet flour when baking. You can also use millet flour for muffins, breads and pie crusts like in this Gluten Free Pie Crust
Remember that millet has good plant fiber and it’s gluten free. Try some soon and let me know what you think!