Eat Local: Why You Should Embrace The Humble Millet

Posted: March 19, 2014

In India, we have a wealth of gut-friendly, earth-friendly millets. How about using millets in your diet regularly? Plus, a millet based Tabouleh recipe to get you started.

A couple of years back, two acquaintances of my brother’s set up a specialty food store in Chennai. My son was thrilled with the store because he could now get all the junk food he had thought he had left behind forever in England, when we left its green shores. I had a bit of a surreal moment wandering the aisles as it felt rather like a Sainsbury’s Local than any shop in namma Chennai.

Why the flashback, you ask. One of the store’s top sellers, almost from the get-go, was quinoa. The owners told my brother that the damned thing was practically flying off the shelves. And I remember my brother shaking his head at this, muttering, “Quinoa? Why? Why can’t people just stick to the dearly beloved rice?”

But no. The world had gone nuts for the non-grain from South America and if you were on a ‘diet’, your plate had to feature quinoa in some way or another at least once in two days. (Else what, I don’t know – the ‘diet’ club membership will be rescinded? Fellow dieters won’t talk to you?) Rice and other local stuff was for the regular schmoes, peeps while for all those that were taking the ‘dieting-shyeting’ seriously, nothing but quinoa would do.

Let me just go on a wee tangent at this point and ask you to quickly pronounce the damned thing. KWY-noo? Kwy-NOAH? Honestly, how many actually knew that it must be pronounced ‘keen-wah’ the first time you clapped your eyes on it? Come on, ‘fess up now!

Whether you can wrap your tongue around the strange name or not, quinoa has now become so mainstream than even my local Nilgiris stocks it, never mind that it costs like it is laced with gold dust. Which is nothing but a crying shame, really; because, in this wonderful country of ours, we have many natural grains that are nutrition power houses but sadly, are ignored, probably because New Yorkers and Londoners and the like haven’t heard of it.

Your friendly neighbourhood millet

I am talking about our friendly neighbourhood millets. These aren’t posh (yet!) and aren’t headlines material but these unsung pearls of nutrition are Something Else, entirely. They grow quickly (the leaflet given by my local organic store actually stated it takes just 65 days for the crop to mature!), are eminently suited for dry conditions, are packed with minerals (magnesium, iron, phosphorous, calcium, potassium etc) and are people friendly – they don’t cause your blood sugar to shoot up nor do they slowly eat small holes in your gut lining and make you break out in hives. Smart little blighters, these millets!

The best part about these things is they are eminently adaptable. You can simply substitute varagu or samai (Kodo and Little millet, respectively) for your rice and it will be business as usual. Thinai (foxtail millet) can be used in adai and idiyappam. Jowar (sorghum) and bajra (pearl millet) can stand in for wheat atta the next time you make rotis and theplas. The Internet is awash with websites that are singing paeans to the lowly millets and there’s even a restaurant in my neighbourhood that has its entire menu based on millets! Wowza,right?

So let’s embrace our local grains – become locavores, if you want to call yourself a fancy name and give sustainable agriculture a big shot in its beleaguered arm. Let the poor Peruvians (and the Bolivians) have their quinoa. After all, it was theirs first!

An easy millet recipe to get you started: Tabbouleh

If you want to know how to get started on your millets journey, here’s a possible first stop. How about adapting the Middle Eastern tabbouleh and substituting a millet (I suggest kuthiraivaali or barnyard millet) for bulgur wheat?

Ingredients

  • 1 cup barnyard millets (kuthiraivaali)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tomatoes, deseeded and diced fine
  • 1-2 red onions, diced fine
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped mint
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Method

Cook the millets – heat the water and when it comes to a boil, add the millets and let it be for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover and let it cook for 15 – 20 minutes.

After 15 – 20 minutes, the millets would have cooked well. Fluff them gently with a fork and use them in the recipe.

In a mixing bowl, mix the olive oil and juice of one lemon. Toss in the tomatoes, onions, coriander and mint. Add the millets and toss well to mix the ingredients.

Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!

Pic credit: sweetonveg

Mother, writer, foodie, margarita lover, Lavanya is the exception to the rule that women are

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