Millet was not a food I grew up eating but it was one I fed to my parakeets. Those budgies would love pecking at the long strands of millet seeds until only the stem remained. When I became an adult, however, and started exploring grains other than rice, I learned that millet is not only delicious and nutty but it’s healthy and gluten-free. If your meals usually include rice or quinoa, and you’re ready to try something different, let me suggest that you get acquainted with millet, an ancient grain.

1. What is Millet?

Millet-tabouleh

Millet is a tiny seed that is a staple in Asian and African countries, yet in the United States, it is mainly found in birdseed. Millet is gluten-free and has a light, nutty flavor. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in meals from breakfast to dessert.

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Millet is considered an ancient grain which means the seeds have been around for millennia and are free of hybridization and genetic manipulation. That’s important because many people find they can digest ancient grains better than they do modern grains. Learn more in What Are Ancient Grains? And Why You Should Eat Them and Now that You Can Pronounce Quinoa, Try These Other Whole Grains.

2. Health Benefits

Miso Sesame Eggplant With Coconut Millet [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Millet has many important health benefits. It’s gluten-free and high in antioxidants, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins. Millet has been found to be good for preventing cardiac disease and migraines, lowering cholesterol, and decreasing triglycerides. Millet is also a good source of protein and fiber so it is an optimal food for good digestive health.

3. How to Cook Millet

Eggplant and Mushroom Saute With Herbed Toasted Millet

Cooking up a pot of millet is not so different than cooking rice. One cup of raw millet makes over 3 cups of cooked millet. Toasting it a bit before cooking brings out the nutty flavor even more as in this Eggplant and Mushroom Saute with Herbed Toasted Millet. Here’s the basic way to cook millet: In a medium-sized saucepan, add 1 cup of raw millet. Turn the heat to medium and allow the millet to toast for five minutes or until the grains are golden brown and smell toasty. Add 2 cups of water or vegetable broth and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir and bring the water to a rapid boil.

Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and let the millet simmer for 20-30 minutes until the water is absorbed. Do NOT keep opening the pot to check on it. When it looks like most of the water is gone, remove the pot from the heat and let stand for another 10 minutes. Uncover the pot and fluff the millet with a fork. Taste for any seasoning adjustments and add a bit of vegan butter, if desired. Serve while warm and fluffy. Be sure to check out my Guide to Cooking Perfect Whole Grains for everything you need to know!

4. Swap Other Grains

Mediteranean-Spartan-Millet-969x800-1093x800

Millet is capable of doing the job of pretty much any other grain so the next time you make a dish that normally includes rice or quinoa, try millet instead. In this Miso Sesame Eggplant With Coconut Millet, millet stands in for the rice usually used in Asian dishes. Millet is a healthy and delicious part of this colorful and flavorful Magnifiqué Millet With Spring Vegetables which looks like spring on a plate. For a hearty and satisfying dish, try this Mediterranean Millet that has zucchini, eggplant, radish sprouts, and toasted hazelnuts. Tabbouleh is usually made with bulgur but this Goji Millet Tabbouleh offers a gluten-free alternative.

5. Millet for Breakfast

Brain-Food-Oatmeal

One of the most common ways to eat millet is as breakfast cereal or porridge. To make it creamy instead of fluffy, simply cook the millet in more water. It will yield a bit more this way, about 4 cups. To make a Simple Millet Hot Cereal: Toast 1 cup raw millet in a saucepan for 5 minutes or until toasty and golden brown. Add 2 ½ cups boiling water, stir, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand for another 10 minutes. Add brown sugar, maple syrup, or fresh fruit and serve. For another breakfast recipe, try this Millet, Dried Figs, Cinnamon, and Orange Porridge.

6. Wraps and Stuff

Rainbow Chard Wraps 1

Millet is an excellent way to bulk up wraps and add to stuffed dishes. Stuffed foods are always fun to eat as well as satisfying. You can stuff tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, artichokes and so many other foods. See 10 Ways to Fill Yourself Up with Stuffed Foods and 25 Stuffed Veggie Dishes You Can Feel Good About Stuffing Yourself With for tons of ideas. These Jack-o-Lantern Stuffed Peppers have millet and other delicious ingredients like spinach and pine nuts in them – and you don’t have to wait for Halloween to eat them!

When you make wraps, tacos and burritos, try using millet instead of rice. These Roasted Butternut Squash, Millet, and Lentil Burritos are the heartiest and yummiest burritos you’ve ever tasted and these Rainbow Chard Wraps with Millet and Chickpeas are stuffed with chickpeas, carrots, cucumber, cabbage, mint, hummus, hemp seeds, and millet. Protein and deliciousness all in one wrap!

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7. Burgers and Patties

Herbed Millet Veggie Burgers

Every good veggie burger needs something to bind the ingredients and millet is a perfect choice. It will hold the patties together and add a yummy nutty flavor. These Caribbean Jerk Millet Burgers With Pineapple Guacamole are packed with protein, flavor, and of course, Caribbean flair from the homemade jerk seasoning and creamy pineapple guacamole. For a hearty, satisfying burger, try these Chickpea Millet Burgers with Butternut Squash and these Herbed Millet Veggie Burgers. Another delicious idea is the recipe for these Rainbow Vegetable Saffron Croquettes. Millet makes sure the outside gets crispy while the inside stays soft. These are perfect for party appetizers!

9. Millet for Dessert

Seasonal Fruit and Nut Millet Bake [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

When millet is cooked with non-dairy milk in much the same way as you make breakfast cereal, it can become a dessert. This Creamy Millet and Cashew Pudding is made with non-dairy milk, nuts, sugar, candied oranges, and warm cardamom. This Seasonal Fruit and Nut Millet Bake is a great way to use leftover millet. Just add cooked millet to your favorite fruits, nuts, and spices for a healthy sweet treat.

10. Millet Flour

Pearl Millet Flour Cake

Millet flour comes from millet seeds which are from the grass family. It is gluten-free, has a light, nutty flavor and is extremely versatile, working well with other flours in all recipes from breakfast to dessert. The flour can also be used as a thickener for soups and stews. Recipes using millet flour you’ll want to try include this Crusty Whole-Grain BreadGingerbread Cookies with Cardamom Vanilla GlazeLemon Thyme Raspberry Tea Cake, and this beautiful Pearl Millet Flour Cake. Millet flour can also be used for breakfast recipes like these Butterscotch Carrot Millet Waffles.

It’s amazing that I used to think millet was just for the birds. Since I’ve discovered this nutty, gluten-free ancient grain, I’ve been as happy as a lark. Try it and see why this ancient grain is new again.

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Lead Image Source: Mushroom and Butternut Squash Millet Pillaf