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Got Millet?

A nutrition discussion in a parenting class the other day led several moms to ask this question: What the heck is millet? And is it really something that we should be eating? True, millet is most commonly known in this country as one of the staple ingredients of birdseed (it’s those round, pale yellow balls). But the fact is, millet is one of the oldest known foods in the world, having been a staple for thousands of years in parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Today it is a significant grain in the diets of many nationalities: In India, it is used for flat bread; in Eastern Europe it is used for porridge; and in Africa it is used for bread and cereal.

Here in the U.S. it’s mainly used for feeding livestock rather than people, which is a shame, because it has phenomenal nutritious properties. It’s high in manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium; it’s a good source of protein and fiber; and it’s gluten-free. You can find it in most health food stores; it’s also available in an increasing number of supermarkets under the Bob’s Red Mill brand.

OK, you say, we’re sold. Now what do we do with it? For starters, you can cook it as just another starch to serve with dinner (like rice or couscous). World’s Healthiest Foods explains: “Rinse it thoroughly under running water and then remove any dirt or debris that you may find. After rinsing, add one part millet to two and a half parts boiling water or broth. After the liquid has returned to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. The texture of millet cooked this way will be fluffy like rice. If you want the millet to have a more creamy consistency, stir it frequently adding a little water every now and then.” If you want to jazz it up a little bit, add ingredients that you might add to couscous, like onion or vegetables or herbs. Whole Foods Market has a nice basic recipe for Basic Millet with Onion and Parsley that we like.

If you prefer a crunchier texture, add millet to your baked goods. One of our favorite recipes that Jolly Tomato’s mom likes to make is millet muffins for breakfast (from James Barrett of Metropolitan Bakery in Philadelphia). Or for a special fall treat, you can try these pumpkin millet muffins from Culinary in the Desert. They have a very satisfying nutty crunch, kind of like sesame seeds. Note: Most of the recipes with millet in baked goods call for the millet to be toasted first.

Once you get started on millet, it’s hard to stop. Lucky for us obscure-grain types, there’s a world of recipes here, here, here, and beyond – from millet pancakes to millet cookies – to explore. And if your kids turn up their noses at the other millet recipes, you can also pop millet like popcorn. That’ll keep them on their toes.

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