"Millet was first grown in China, where it was revered for thousands of years as one of their five most sacred grains."
Millet is the tofu of the grain world.
OK, I know that might not make some of you hungry. Tofu has a bad reputation, just like millet. Some of us associate tofu with that watery block of white goo, sealed in plastic. Unappetizing. Truly good tofu, however, is made fresh that day, still warm, silky on the spoon, and something else entirely than what you have in your head.
The same is true for millet. Where have you seen millet before? For most of you, that's probably in a bag of birdseed. Yep, millet is the small round grain fed to the birds in the park by crazy old ladies. Does that make you want to eat it? Probably not.
How about this? That salad you see up there? That's a chilled millet salad with red peppers and golden raisins, honeycomb tangerines, goat cheese, red leaf lettuce, and prosciutto. Plus, a little apple gastrique.
Millet does not have to be boring.
Mild and light, little beads of millet have a subtly nuanced sweetness. When I boil them with chicken stock, they emerge golden and creamy. The adaptable millet grain takes on the flavor of whatever it contacts, but it still maintains its clean, clear taste. (Here's another way it's like tofu.)
Millet was first grown in China, where it was revered for thousands of years as one of their five most sacred grains. (Its name in Chinese—xiaomi—translates to little rice.) Millet also grew across the Roman empire, in its heyday. However, as is true for most of the gluten-free grains, millet somehow fell out of favor with the upper classes. Today, millet is regarded as poor man's food through much of the world, including the United States.
On the bright side, this makes it conveniently inexpensive for those of us who need gluten-free grains, or those of us who want to eat good grains in general.
Poor little millet. It actually has more iron than any other grain besides teff, makes a complete protein, and cooks up wonderfully well. Farmers in the Midwest grow it in abundance. But having grown up in Southern California, in the '70s and '80s, I had never heard of it. Certainly, I had never cooked with it, until I had to go gluten-free. Since then, I've eaten millet at least once a week. Mixed in soups, it's slightly nutty, with a soft bite. I adore it with any kind of beans, but especially fava beans. Sometimes, I simply cook it with mushroom stock, then garnish it with ground cumin and handfuls of Italian parsley. Any green vegetable gleams against its golden grains.
Millet flour gives gluten-free baked goods a crumbly texture, which is why I like to fold it into zucchini breads and chocolate chip cookies.
Simmer some millet, then sear some tofu with tamari, fish sauce, and green scallions. Put them all together and you have the perfect meal.