Millet

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Millet is an annual, gluten-free grass, with a high protein content similar to wheat but is inferior for baking. Millet ranks third behind rice and wheat in terms of importance for food globally. Millet is widely eaten in Africa and Asia, as well as Russia.

Millet is mild and light in its overall taste.

In Europe, it's yellow millet that is mainly cooked. Yellow millet has tiny spherical kernels. Millet is used in flat breads and griddle cakes. Millet grains can be mixed with pulses and vegetables, as well as being popular in soups and stews.

Whole millet grains are used like rice in China, India, Japan and Russia. So shanwa in Japan is eaten as porridge or mixed with rice, whereas it is called kheri in India.

In Africa, millet is ground down to a meal, which is then cooked into a porridge. In India, finger millet or ragi is ground to make flour for making breads and beer.

Unlike most grains, millet is alkaline and not acid, while it is also very bland in taste, so works really well mixed with other more flavoursome ingredients, e.g. spices, as the pilaff base for stews.

In addition to the millet grains:

  • Millet flakes: simple additions to porridges or muesli.
  • Millet flour or teff flour: quite hard to come by, but it is gluten-free. Millet flour is good for flat breads, e.g. injera the flat loaf of Ethiopia which used teff flour. Alternatively, millet flour can be used as a thickening agent for soups and stews.
  • Puffed millet: okay for breakfast.
  • Sorghum: used for sorghum syrup in the USA.

Cooking

To prepare millet:

  1. Toast slightly the millet in a saucepan with a little sunflower oil.
  2. Add water or stock in proportions of 2:1 or water to millet. Bring to the boil, simmer and cook for roughly 20 minutes. Stir and remove from the heat. Leave to stand for 15 minutes with the lid on. Fluff up with a fork and perhaps stir in some seasonings - salt, herbs - mint or parsley.
  3. Or add in proportion of 3:1 of water to millet for a wetter, creamier version. This is more like polenta.

Storing

Millet lasts for a long time. Store somewhere dry, dark and cool, and free from potential insect contamination.

Further reading

  • Christian, G. (2005) Real Flavours: the handbook of gourmet & deli ingredients, Grub Street. ISBN 1904943209.
  • Stobart, T. (1981) The Cook's Encyclopedia: ingredients & processes, Harper & Row. ISBN 0060141271.