Not Just For the Birds

By Casey Seidenberg

Whole grains have been a hot nutritional topic in the past few years. Much airtime has been devoted to white or refined grains vs. the more nutritionally sound whole variety. The Whole Grain Council stamp of approval identifies food items up and down the grocery aisles. And more and more people have even learned how to pronounce quinoa (KEEN-wah).

Although quinoa has asserted its position as the golden girl of whole grains, there is another grain that deserves a chance in the spotlight: millet. Millet could be quinoa’s red-headed stepsister seeing that most Americans haven’t heard of it or associate it with birdseed.  Yet according to the “The New Food Lover’s Companion,” millet feeds a third of the world’s population. Come on, America: Catch on.

Millet is gluten-free, non-acid-forming and non-allergenic, so it’s a fantastic option for people following a gluten-free diet or wrestling with digestive issues.

It also contains the following nutrients:

  • protein (tissue-building)
  • iron (blood-building)
  • B vitamins (energy-providing)
  • magnesium (heart-healthy)
  • phosphorus (bone- and teeth-strengthening)
  • insoluble fiber (aiding in digestion and the absorption of nutrients)

But even more important, millet tastes good, with a mildly sweet flavor very similar to that of corn or grits. It is also an incredibly versatile food.

Uses for Millet

  • Make morning millet porridge with almond milk, cinnamon and peaches.
  • Add the cooked whole grain to soup in lieu of rice or barley.
  • If your kids like macaroni and cheese, replace the less healthful pasta with millet. Just add butter and grated Parmesan.
  • Pop it in a skillet (like corn kernels) to make a healthful snack.
  • Use millet flour in bread and muffin recipes (start by replacing a quarter of the flour and increase the proportion if you like the flavor and consistency).
  • Toss with olive oil and salt, or add your favorite vegetables, nuts and dried fruit to make a millet salad.
  • Replace couscous with this wheat-free alternative.
  • Instead of grits, whip up creamy millet.

Technically, millet is a seed, though it is usually categorized as a grain because it is cooked and eaten like one.  Regardless of how millet is categorized, or how often it has been fed to the birds, with all of its benefits this food deserves a position on the American table, repeatedly.

BASIC MILLET (6 to 7 servings or 3 1/2 cups)

Millet takes less than 30 minutes to cook. Toss it with olive oil or butter and salt for a simple side dish; make it into a morning porridge; or add vegetables, dried fruit and nuts to build a salad.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raw millet
  • 2 1/2 cups water (may substitute no-salt-added broth)

Directions

  • Rinse the millet in a small-holed colander to get rid of any dusty residue or small bits of debris. Drain well.
  • If you'd like to maximize the grain's nutty flavor, transfer it to a skillet and toast over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant. (Its color won't change.)
  • Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the millet; once the water starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. If you stir often, the millet's texture will be slightly creamy; if you leave it undisturbed, the texture will be coarser.
  • Cool before serving or storing.

MAKE AHEAD: The cooked millet can be refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.

MILLET MUFFINS (Makes 12)

These are a modern take on the corn muffin -- with a bit more depth, crunch and flavor.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup raw millet
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup regular or nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus the juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup dried or fresh cranberries (optional)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 12-well muffin pan or line with paper liners.
  • Whisk together the pastry flour, millet, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.
  • Whisk together the yogurt, eggs, melted butter, honey, lemon zest and juice in a separate bowl until well incorporated.
  • Pour the yogurt mixture into the flour-millet mixture, stirring just until the dry ingredients are well blended. Stir in the cranberries, if using.
  • Divide the batter equally among the muffin wells. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes; the muffins won't brown much, but the tops will be cracked.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature. Cool completely before storing.

MAKE AHEAD: The muffins can be covered and stored at room temperature for 2 or 3 days, or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Muffin recipe adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day.

Article first published in the Washington Post on Thursday, November 21, 2013.