Do millet recipes sound uncool? In our eagerness to jump onto the ‘trendy food’ wagon, are we guilty of relegating the traditional grains of India to second class foods?
Up until a few years ago, words such as parmesan, shitake and baklava were really not part of the average Indian’s culinary vocabulary. Perhaps a fashionable foodie or a well-travelled chef might have been familiar with such exotic-sounding terms but certainly it was hard to come across such dishes or ingredients commonly in India. However, today, oats have simply taken over our homes and even my neighbourhood supermarket stocks things such as chia seeds and quinoa.
People have become more open towards experimenting with various global cuisines – not to mention more health conscious as well – and although we Indians have an innate tendency towards dousing our white sauce with chilli flakes or generously showering that rather bland steamed fish with some (or lots of!) pepper, one must admit that the Indian palette has evolved.
On one hand this change is indeed something to be welcomed – after all I would look forward to a steaming and comforting bowl of pho at a restaurant down my street as much as the next guy. On the other hand it also leads one to wonder about the state of some of the traditional grains of India. As demand for wonder grains such as quinoa increases have we not forgotten about our humble grains such as finger millets, foxtail millets and pearl millets?
When quinoa is served at a dinner party, whether we know to pronounce it correctly or not, we wax eloquent about its benefits; but if a dish of a millet recipe is served most of us would steer clear of the dish! Half of us would not even recognize the dish!
Since millets are predominantly consumed by people in rural areas or from low income groups, many falsely assume that millets are not very nutritious. It is important to understand that grains such as millets have a host of health benefits. For instance, finger millets, also known as ragi, are often one of the earliest foods that are offered to babies in India. It is rich in minerals such as calcium and iron and is even said to control various lifestyle disorders like cholesterol. The next time those sneaky hunger pangs catch you unawares, instead of reaching for a packet of potato chips, why not try these delicious ragi cookies instead? In addition to the cocoa, the ragi in these cookies also tends to take on a deep brown colour, reminiscent of chocolate, thus making these cookies visually appealing even to children.
Also, for those who are looking to go gluten-free, millets are a wonderful choice. Pearl millets (kambu in Tamil, Bajra in Hindi) are high in fibre. Anita Nandini, a 38 year old HR professional from Chennai says, “I wanted to increase my fiber intake and hence started trying out some millet recipes. I make sure to consume millets at least 4 times in a week.” It isn’t very difficult to incorporate millets into your diet. If you are in the mood for experimenting, you could try out totally new and innovative millet recipes like this Millet Salad; else if you would like to stay on the safe side, you could also try tweaking old and familiar millet recipes such as this Pearl Millet Dosa.
Foxtail millets (known as thinai in Tamil), are recommended to control diabetes. They typically take longer to breakdown and digest, unlike rice, and hence offer a sustained release of energy – something which Nanditha Suresh, a 31 year old fitness enthusiast and food blogger from Sydney, who runs a Facebook page called Kitchening About found appealing. She elaborates, “I am a recent millet convert. I started about a year ago when I travelled to India for a holiday. My father made a millet recipe thinai thayir sadham and it was instant love. So I started toying with the idea of experimenting with it more. I brought back plenty of packets of millets to Australia.”
“My husband was very apprehensive in the beginning. When he had a mouthful of the thinai thayir sadham, he instantly gave his tick of approval. He loves it so much now that he insists on me making cooking one millet recipe every week,” Nanditha adds.
Bhuvaneswari Ramesh, a 53 year old Carnatic music teacher from Chennai and a member of a foodie group on Facebook called Food Board, states that Kuthiraivali Sambar Sadham (a one pot dish made with barnyard millets and lentils) and Varagu Arisi Pongal (Kodo Millet) are some of her favourite millet dishes. She gives us this tip for cooking with millets, “Ratio of millets to water is different for every variety. It does involve a little experimenting in the beginning. Millet cooks well when mixed with hot water”.
Speaking of traditional grains in India, one must also not forget Barley. Powdered barley is often mixed into soups or porridges and fed to babies as they are considered to be quite nutritious. Barley grains can be used to make some tasty dishes for grown-ups as well. For instance, this millet recipe for a quick and easy Barley Khichdi makes for a perfectly satisfying weeknight meal.
Another great advantage of incorporating traditional grains into a balanced diet, is that they are pretty affordable and will not make a dent in your pocket, unlike imported pseudo cereals such as quinoa. Further, since these crops are easily grown in our country they are also easily accessible. Naturally, this means that they spend less time being processed, packaged and transported and are therefore much fresher than produce which has been shipped from halfway across the world. What’s more, by supporting the philosophy of ‘Buy Local, Eat Local’ you will in turn help support the local farmers sustain their livelihood.
With the Western world singing paeans to ‘Turmeric Latte’ and ‘Moringa Tea’ these days, we really have no excuse not to get back in touch with our roots! Go on, try a millet recipe or two with the traditional grains of India – and don’t forget to thank us later for the gentle reminder!
Image source: wikicommons.