Somehow, quinoa became the poster child for gluten-free grains. In restaurants, it’s a code word for “gluten-free menu item”. And I’m not gonna say anything bad about quinoa. We eat it frequently, and I have a colleague from Peru who makes the most amazing quinoa salad for office parties. If only he’d share his recipe…
Personally, I think it’s time millet earned some of the love that has been showered on quinoa. Millets, which are the tiny seeds of grasses, are commonly grown in Africa and Asia, and come in a variety of types. Pearl millet is often sold in the United States. According to Wikipedia, millet has been cultivated by humans for about 10,000 years.
(That firmly places millet in the category of “ancient grains”. Also, Wikipedia places sorghum in the millet family. Who knew? Teff, Fonio, and Job’s Tears are also types of millet.)
From a nutritional perspective, millets check all the boxes: lots of good fiber, protein, iron, B vitamins, calcium, and other minerals. They break down slowly in digestive system, making them great options for people trying to control their blood sugar. Adding millet to your dietary repertoire is a great move.
I will note, for the record, that there is some evidence that consuming large quantities of millet can (potentially) increase thyroid problems, including the development of goiter. Chances are, you won’t consume millet in sufficient quantities to make this a serious concern. Balance is everything.
From a convenience perspective, millet is as easy to prepare as rice. This makes is a great whole grain accompaniment to a meal. Millet is also great ground into flours for noodles and breads. And, of course, millet is a great grain for porridges (add a bit of dairy and some fruit for a good mix of carbs and proteins to start your day).
So what to do with millet?
- Plain Millet. I mentioned that millet is as easy to prepare as rice. Simply place one cup of millet in two cups of seasoned, boiling water. Cover the pan with lid, reduce heat, and let the liquid absorb into the millet, about 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff and serve. Add a little olive oil or butter to the cooking liquid if you want. This recipe makes about three cups of cooked millet, so scale down the recipe as necessary. For very small quantities of millet, I generally do a 1 1/2 liquid to 1 millet ratio so my grains aren’t soupy.
- Millet Tabbouleh. Traditionally, tabbouleh, a parsley, grain, and tomato salad, is made made with bulgur wheat. Tiny cooked millet grains make a fine substitute for the wheat in any tabbouleh recipe you find. Here’s a recipe that serves as a great starting point for this wonderful salad.
- Millet Cakes. Of course I love to make fritters with grains. Of course millet is great grain for the task. I use this recipe from Vegetarian Times as a starting point (but I only use two eggs as three makes the whole thing a little too wet for my taste), but you can vary the ingredients to suit your own needs.
- Millet Bowls. We’re all familiar with rice bowls, so it’s an easy substitution to add millet. Round out the bowl with colorful julienned vegetables like beets and carrots, top with any sauce you like (hello mustardy yogurt sauce!), add some nuts, enjoy.
- Millet Salad. For a quick side dish, I toss together cooked millet with dried fruit and green onions and chopped parsley. The salad is finished with a light, lemony vinaigrette — vinegars like balsamic are too heavy and overpowering for delicate millet salads. Serve the salad warm or at room temperature. If you make the salad in advance, reserve some dressing to freshen the flavor right before serving.
- Millet Breads. I love dosas, Indian flatbreads that are generally stuffed with, well, amazing things. This recipe for millet dosa shows how flexible millet flour is, and how quickly you can make a flatbread for any meal. Add curry or dipping sauce as you like.
Or, let your imagination run wild. Millet is extremely versatile and easy to cook. This makes it perfect for a wide range of meals!
How do you use millet?
Tip of the Week
Like many grains, millet gains depth of flavor when it’s toasted. Before you add to your cooking liquid, toast the millet in a dry skillet or saucepan until golden brown. Keep the grains moving to prevent burning. I like to pretend I’m a professional chef as I swirl and toss my grains during toasting.
Gluten-Free Meal of the Week
When I encountered the recipe linked below, I was intrigued, but entirely clueless about fonio. Moments of research revealed fonio to be a type of millet, common in Africa. And the pilaf certainly reveals its African origins with its ingredients.
I serve this pilaf at parties because it’s such a conversation starter. However, if you have the ingredients handy, it’s also perfect weeknight dish. I’d go so far as to make it the centerpiece of a Friday night carbo-loading meal!
- Fonio Pilaf with Dates, Carrots, and Peanuts
- Grilled Chicken or Turkey Drumsticks