By Cary Neff, Experience Life
Many of us know millet primarily as an ingredient in bird feed, but it’s also a highly nutritious and tasty staple that can complement a wide array of flavors and cuisines.
Like quinoa and amaranth, millet is actually a seed, but it’s classified as a grain in cookbooks because that’s the way it’s most often prepared. Gluten-free, and high in both protein and fiber, this subtle and slightly nutty-flavored traditional grain is enjoying a comeback in prepared foods, like cereals, breads and crackers, and as an alternative grain for healthy home cooking.
Millet is most often served like rice, although in Eastern Europe, China, India and Africa, it’s also used to make hot cereals; thin, unleavened breads; and even fermented beverages.
Millet seeds are tiny and almost perfectly spherical — about 1 to 2 millimeters in diameter. Although there are several types of commonly eaten millet, pearl millet, which is usually eaten in the United States, accounts for 50 percent of the world’s millet crop.
Typically sold whole, millet is also available in a cracked form (which is used in traditional couscous) and, increasingly, as a whole-grain flour
Thanks to its mild, neutral flavor and delicate texture, millet combines well with a wide variety of dishes. So read on to learn all about it — then experiment and enjoy!
Next: Nutritional Value and Recipes
- Easy to digest, millet is gluten-free and rich in amino acids, especially leucine, cystine and phenylanaline.
- A 1-cup serving of cooked millet provides about 12 percent of the daily recommended amount of protein.
- The seed’s dietary fiber — 1 cup has about 9 percent of the daily recommended amount — helps keep the digestive tract operating smoothly and lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Studies have shown that fiber in whole grains like millet helps protect women against gallstones and premenopausal women against breast cancer. It also supports cardiovascular health in postmenopausal women.
- It’s a great source of B vitamins, especially niacin (B3), thiamin (B1) and B6, which play critical roles in the body.
- Millet is also rich in minerals such as manganese (an enzyme activator that improves bone structure), magnesium (which lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart attack and type 2 diabetes), phosphorous (which helps the body efficiently process carbohydrates, fats and proteins), and copper (which supports good metabolism).
- Millet is a thyroid peroxidase inhibitor, so if you suffer from thyroid-related diseases, you may want to avoid it.
Next: Kitchen Tricks and Recipes
To bring out the nutty flavor in millet, first rinse and drain it in a fine mesh strainer, then place damp seeds in a dry sauté pan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the water has evaporated and the grains have separated, turned lightly brown and smell nutty (about four minutes).
Then cook as directed below.
- For a classic, ricelike texture, use 1 cup millet to 21/2 cups water or broth. Bring to boil, then reduce to a low flame, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed.
- For a lighter, fluffier effect, cook with a little less water (1 cup millet to 2 cups liquid).
- For a dense, creamy texture (good for cereal or polenta), use more water (1 cup millet to 3 cups liquid).
Shopping and Storage Tips
- Millet seeds can go rancid quite quickly (a bitter flavor and aftertaste is your clue). Ground millet flour spoils even faster, so store it in the refrigerator. If you use only small quantities of millet flour at a time, you can buy the whole seeds and grind them into a coarse flour in a clean coffee grinder or spice mill.
- Prepackaged millet seeds are available in many grocery stores (often in the natural foods section), but you may opt for a bulk bin at a natural foods market where the inventory moves quickly, and where you can buy only as much as you need.
- Store millet in a covered container in a cool, dark place for up to two months. Large quantities can be frozen in a freezer bag for up to six months.
- Toss leftover cooked millet with chopped vegetables and your favorite vinaigrette for a quick and easy salad.
- For a tasty vegetarian entrée, combine warm millet with finely chopped vegetables and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Form into cakes or croquettes, then refrigerate on a baking sheet for 30 minutes. Bake in a 350-degree F oven for 20 minutes until golden brown, or cook in a sauté pan in a small amount of olive oil to brown on both sides.
- Millet makes fabulous polenta. Cook with sautéed onions and vegetable stock until thick and creamy, then finish with a strong cheese such as Roquefort or Parmesan to make it extra creamy. Millet polenta can be served hot, or pressed into a pan, cut when cool, then grilled or sautéed.
- Keep cooked millet in your refrigerator so you can add it to dishes on the fly. Try it instead of breadcrumbs when making burgers, meatloaf or meatballs.
- Try substituting ¼ cup millet flour for 1/4 cup wheat flour in your favorite banana-bread recipe. Millet flour can also be mixed into pancake or waffle batter, adding a rich, nutty flavor.
- Homemade whole-grain bread can be made even better with a ¼ cup of washed and toasted millet added into the flour mixture, providing fiber, texture and flavor.
Next: Coconut Millet Salad
Coconut Millet Salad
A nice, bright change for a winter lunch, coconut-infused millet tossed with raisins and peanuts makes a great salad to serve with chicken satay, Asian turkey burgers or stir-fried tofu. You can also spoon it into Boston or Bibb lettuce leaves to make a wrap.
Makes six servings
1 cup millet
11/2 cups water
1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. curry powder
1 cup finely chopped red pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped
2 tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. seasoned ricewine vinegar
Rinse the millet in a fine mesh strainer and toast it in a sauté pot over medium heat until lightly browned or toasted, about four minutes. Remove from pan; use pan in next step.
Heat the water, coconut milk and curry powder to a low boil. Add the toasted millet to the pan, bring to a boil again, cover and turn down the heat to simmer. Cook until all the water is absorbed and the millet is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the cooked millet to a mixing bowl and toss with red peppers, green onions, raisins, peanuts and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and vinegar. Drizzle soy-sauce mixture into the millet and toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.