By Reshma Seetharam
Special to the Herald
At a time when more than 29 million Americans have diabetes and as many as 18 million Americans have a gluten sensitivity, now is the time to discover — or rediscover, as I have — millets.
Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for food and fodder. For thousands of years, these crops have been grown in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa.
While proso millet is mostly grown for bird seed in the United States, millets are an important food staple in many countries, including India, Nigeria, China, Sudan and Ethiopia. The most widely grown millet is pearl millet.
The grains are highly nutritious, gluten-free, fiber-rich and non-acid forming foods. Hence, they are soothing and easy to digest. Apparently, they are the least allergenic and most digestible grains available. They contain low phytic acid and are rich in dietary fiber, iron, calcium and B vitamins.
Compared to even whole grain rice, eating whole grain millet rice leads to a more gradual increase in the glucose levels in one’s blood. Millets help in management of diabetes and decrease the risk of diabetes in those who are likely to develop it.
I started using millets extensively over a year ago, and was instantly inspired to make them a big part of our family’s diet due to its nutrition content and easy adaptability into many flavors.
A good friend who is the founder of Organic Mandya, a grassroots movement that is working closely with farmers in South India, encouraged me to try making recipes with millets.
Organic Mandya is a cooperative that is helping revive and support millet cultivation through organic farming. The group aims to bring back health and prosperity among farmers and consumers who buy their produce by empowering them with information about traditional, healthy agricultural practices.
The goal is to make Mandya (a district in India) a chemical-free district by 2020, and uplift the economic status of marginalized farmers.
I have written a book of millet recipes that can be found on Amazon called “Cooking with Millets.” Below are some recipes from the book. You can also follow my blog www.reshmaseetharam.com for more recipes.
How to cook and use millets
Don’t hesitate to engage with millets. It’s quite simple — treat them like any other grain. They are easy to cook, and are a wonderful substitute if you are looking for a gluten-free staple, or if you want to eliminate/reduce rice, wheat, potatoes, etc. in your diet.
1 cup rinsed, soaked and drained millets
2 ½ cups water or broth of your choice
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ghee or oil
Rinse the millets well in water to remove dirt. Soak in 2-inch deep water for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Set a pan on your stove at medium-high heat. Add the water/broth and millets. Bring the millets to a rolling boil. Add salt, and ghee/oil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Once the water is completely evaporated, turn off the heat. For best results, wait for a few minutes before you fluff the millets with a fork.
For a crunchy, nutty texture, you may dry roast the millets on a skillet until they are aromatic, and then cook the same way mentioned above. Once cooked, you may store them in the fridge for up to four days, and use in recipes just like rice. You can also toss them in salads, or have them as breakfast porridge with fresh fruits, nuts and almond milk.
For first time users, an easy way to begin would be to choose millet flour. You can swap it with regular flour in recipes. Experiment by swapping small quantities and experiment till you have a taste ratio that you like.
Carrot millet muffins
These breakfast muffins are packed with all the goodness and healthier than store bought baked goodies. They work well on-the-go and are great in kids’ lunch boxes, too.
Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes. Yields: About 18 muffins.
1 cup organic mixed millet flour (bajra or/and ragi flour)
1 cup organic wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
2 cups carrots, grated
1 cup raisins
½ cup yogurt
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup organic brown sugar/jaggery or 1 and ¼ cup sugar
Sift the millet flour, wheat flour, soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Soak the raisins in 1 cup warm water for about 10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, add in the eggs, oil, and brown sugar. Whisk for 2 minutes until they are light and fluffy.
Gradually mix small amounts of the flour mixture and beat on low. Wait till the mixture is combined before you add in your next flour batch. Gently fold in carrots and raisins with a wooden spoon or whisk.
Top it with yogurt and mix gently to form a uniform mixture. Scoop out equal portions into paper-lined muffin cups.
Sprinkle whole oats on the muffins. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
Millet burger patties
These are yummy veggie cutlets of cooked millet, mashed potatoes, egg, carrot and cilantro that can be served as lunch, packed in your family’s lunch box or served as after school snacks.
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 30 minutes. Yields: 6 burger patties
½ cup foxtail millets
1 cup potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
1 cup carrot, grated
1 cup peas, boiled and drained
½ cup fresh cilantro/corriander, finely chopped
½ cup onions, diced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon jeera/cumin powder
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups bread crumbs
In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add millets, bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to low. Cover and cook for about 12 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat, fluff with a fork and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked millet, mashed potatoes, egg, carrot, cilantro, and all the powders. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions. Grease your hands with a little oil. Mold them into ¾ inch patties. Chill the patties in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up. Dip the patties in breadcrumbs to coat on both sides.
Add a few teaspoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook the patties, about 3 minutes each side until golden brown. Serve it in burger buns, in flatbread wraps or just as veggie millet cutlets with some dipping sauce on the side.
Millet energy bites
Here are some quick and nutritious energy bites that you can make ahead and store. They are great as healthy snacks on-the-go for the whole family. It is a sneaky way to get your picky kids to eat almonds and dates, too. You may use any millet flour you like. In this recipe, I have used two different millet flours — ragi and bajra. You may substitute it with just one kind of millet flour.
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 3 minutes. Yields: About 25 lemon-sized energy bites.
½ cup ragi flour (finger millet flour) and ½ cup bajra flour or 1 cup millet flour
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup almonds, whole
1 cup dry coconut flakes
½ cup honey
Dry roast the ragi and bajra flour in a pan on medium heat. After about 3 to 5 minutes, the flours will be aromatic. Remove from heat and let it cool completely.
In a food processor, add the millet flours, dates, almonds and coconut flakes. Give it about 8 to 10 pulses, until the almonds, dates and coconuts and all shredded down uniformly.
Add honey, and give it quick pulses until the mixture is crumbly and starts to gather into a dough.
Remove and mold the dough into lemon-sized balls. They can be stored at room temperature. Chilling it in the fridge will keep if fresh for two weeks.
Pongal is a mellow porridge of rice and lentils, but this recipe has wholesome millets, lentils, whole peppercorns and other spices.
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 40 minutes. Yields: 4 servings (about 4 cups).
1 cup moong dal
1 cup whole millets, foxtail used here
2-3 teaspoons ghee/oil
2 tablespoons milk
½ cup onion (optional)
2 or 3 green chilies cut lengthwise
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
½ teaspoon cumin seeds/jeera
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
A sprig of curry leaves
Pressure cook or boil the rice and moong dhal with 4 cups of water, until soft and mushy. In a large skillet, heat a large pan on medium flame. Add 2 teaspoons ghee.
Toss in the mustard seeds, jeera and pepper. After a minute, add green chili and curry leaves. Once they splatter, add the ginger and onions. Let them turn into a good brown.
Add in the millets and lentil mixture. Cook on medium for 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons milk, then cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Finally, in a separate pan, heat 1 teaspoon ghee, add cashew nuts, roast to a golden brown.
Toss the mixture into the pongal. Serve hot with yogurt salad/raitha or tomato chutney.