When I was a kid, I thought millet seeds were for the birds. Literally. We always had finches and parakeets and we would buy them these long branches of millet seeds. They loved them and would peck off all the seeds until there was nothing left but bare branches and lots of empty hulls. The idea of eating millet myself didn’t exist until I was already an adult vegan and became gluten-free. That’s when I started exploring other whole grains including millet.
Millet is an ancient seed and it’s a lot more popular in other parts of the world than in North America. That should change though since millet is very healthy. Not only is it gluten-free but it’s packed with iron, calcium and vitamins. It’s also delicious with a light, nutty flavor and extremely versatile. Millet can be used in many ways including for breakfast and dessert. Whether you are gluten-free or not, increasing your intake of whole grains is always a good idea.
If you have never tried millet before, here are some ideas that will make you want to add it to your diet:
1. Basic Cooking
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. In a medium-sized saucepan, add 1 cup of raw millet. Turn the heat to medium and allow the millet to toast for 5 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 15-20 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!
2. Breakfast Porridge
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 Brain Food Porridge made with millet, dried figs, oranges, cinnamon and ginger.
3. Breakfast for Dinner
There is a popular hot breakfast dish from South India called upma. It’s usually made with semolina called rava but I want mine to be gluten-free so I use millet. I also add lots of veggies which makes it a hearty dish suitable for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The veggies – I use different ones each time – and millet are cooked with mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fresh ginger, garlic, green chiles and curry powder for a flavor-packed, healthy meal. To make my Savory Millet Upma: in a deep skillet or saute pan that has a lid toast 1 ½ cups raw millet over medium heat until the seeds just start to brown. Remove from the heat and set aside. Heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil over medium heat. Add 1 ½ tsp. mustard seeds and 1 ½ tsp. cumin seeds. Let cook for 1 minute or until they just start to pop. Add 2 tsp. fresh minced ginger and 3 cloves of minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 green chiles and 1 Tbs. curry powder. Cook until the aromatics are fragrant. Mix in 1 diced onion and toss to coat in the spices. Cook the onions for 3 minutes until softened a bit. Add 1 diced bell pepper, 1 cup of diced carrots and 4 diced red potatoes. Toss to mix all the veggies and cook for 6 minutes. Add 1 cup chopped broccoli florets, 1 diced yellow squash and 3 chopped plum tomatoes. Season the veggies with kosher salt to taste and cook for another 4 minutes.
Add the toasted millet to the pan along with 3 cups water or vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, stir, cover the pot and let cook until the water is absorbed, about 25-30 minutes. When all the water is gone, remove from the heat and let stand, covered, 10 more minutes. Top with a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice and mix in 3 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro or parsley. Serve while hot. Garnish with extra cilantro or parsley. For another millet dish filled with veggies, try this Mediterranean Spartan Strength Millet which has carrots, zucchini, eggplant, radishes and hazelnuts.
4. Healthy Appetizers
If you follow all my articles and recipes, you know that I will make fries out of anything! Well, millet is no exception. When millet is cooked to be a thick, creamy porridge, it is very similar to polenta and that means it is amenable to being turned into fries. In fact, it prefers to be turned into fries. I know, it tells me so. J To make Baked Millet Fries: Boil 2 ½ cups of water in a saucepan and add 1 cup of raw millet and a pinch of salt. 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. Mix in ¼ cup nutritional yeast or vegan grated parmesan, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. paprika, and salt and black pepper to taste. Transfer the millet porridge to a shallow baking dish that has been oiled and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate from 2 hours to overnight until it hardens completely and you can slice it. Then slice the millet into strips resembling fries.
Place the strips onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in a single layer. In a small bowl, mix together 1 tsp. each of garlic powder, paprika and chile powder (or your favorite spices). Spray the millet strips with cooking oil and sprinkle with the spice mix. Turn the strips over and repeat on the other side. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the strips appear golden brown. Flip them and continue to bake for 10-15 more minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with your favorite dip or condiment such as vegan ranch dressing. Check out 10 Healthier Ways to Make Fries and Chips for more healthy starters and snacks.
5. In Place of Other Grains
Millet is capable of doing the job of pretty much any other grain. For example, tabbouleh is usually made with bulgur but a gluten-free version can be made with millet. It’s delicious by itself or served with your favorite Mediterranean dishes. The different colored vegetables give it a rainbow appearance. And you know your food is healthy when it has all the colors of a rainbow. To make my Rainbow Millet Tabbouleh: First get the millet cooking. It takes about 20 minutes and during that time, the rest of the ingredients can be prepped and ready to go. Add 1 cup millet into a medium saucepan and add 2 cups of broth or water (or a combination of both). Add a pinch of salt, cover the pot and over a medium-high heat, bring it to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes until the millet is fluffy.
While the millet is cooking, get all the veggies and herbs seeded and chopped up. Seed and/or chop 2 cucumbers, 3 plum tomatoes, 1 yellow bell pepper, 5 scallions, 1 cup fresh parsley and ½ cup fresh mint. When it’s ready, transfer the millet to a large bowl and let it cool. To the bowl of fluffy millet, add the cucumbers, tomatoes, bell pepper and scallions. Add the parsley and mint and toss well. Dress the tabbouleh with 3 Tbs. olive oil, 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper and mix it well. Taste to see if any adjustments are necessary. You should be able to taste the fluffiness of the millet, the crunch of the veggies, the freshness of the mint and the brightness of the lemon. Refrigerate until ready to serve. You can also try replacing the barley with millet in this Veggie Tabbouleh recipe.
6. Stuff Something
Stuffed foods are always fun to eat as well as satisfying. You can stuff tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, artichokes and so many other foods. Winter squash is the perfect vessel for my Kale, Apple, Parsnip and Millet Stuffed Squash. Cut the tips off the bottoms of the squash so they can sit level. Cut the squash cross-wise in halves, giving you two bowl-shaped pieces. Scoop out the middles with the seeds and set aside. In a skillet, saute 3 chopped scallions, 2 minced garlic cloves, and a seeded and finely chopped red chile pepper. Add a chopped bell pepper, a chopped parsnip and 2 small, chopped apples. Cook until the veggies are softened, about 7 minutes. Add 1 tsp. dried sage, 1 tsp. Herbes de Provence and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Wilt a bunch of chopped kale into the pan. Turn off the heat and add 1 cup cooked millet to the pan. Mix everything well. Place the squash halves into an oiled baking dish. Generously fill each squash with stuffing, cover the baking dish and bake for 1 hour until the squash is tender. Serve warm. These Jack-o-Lantern Stuffed Peppers also 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!
7. Have a Ball
If you have ever had arancini, you know how delicious they are. Arancini are fried cheesy rice balls usually made with leftover risotto. You can make a pseudo-arancini using millet instead of rice and to make them even healthier, bake instead of frying them. To make my Millet Arancini: in a mug, combine 1 Tbs. ground flaxseed with 3 Tbs. warm water. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes until it forms a gel. In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 cups cooked millet (it works best when it’s a bit sticky so you might need to cook the millet a bit longer than usual), 1 cup chopped spinach, 3 minced garlic cloves, the zest of one lemon, ½ tsp. kosher salt, ¼ tsp. black pepper and ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg. Add ½ cup vegan mozzarella shreds and the flaxseed gel and mix until everything is incorporated and feels like it will hold together. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a big spoon, scoop up some of the millet mixture. It should be about the size of a golf ball. Place the ball on the baking sheet and continue until you use all the mixture to make about a dozen balls. Refrigerate the millet balls for 30 minutes (or in the freezer for 5 minutes).
In a shallow bowl, add ½ cup non-dairy milk and 1 Tbs. ground flaxseed. On a shallow plate, combine 1 ½ cups bread crumbs, 3 Tbs. vegan grated parmesan, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. dried oregano, ½ tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Remove the millet balls from the fridge. Coat each ball with the milk/flax, shake off any excess liquid and then coat with the seasoned bread crumbs. Return to the baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes or until the balls are golden brown, flipping them halfway through. Allow to cool a bit before serving. Note: if preferred, these can be made as flat cakes instead of balls.
8. Other Ways to Use Millet
There are so many other ways to use millet in your cooking. It can be used as a binder for veggie burgers like in my Roasted Beet Burgers. If you love warm quinoa salads, try using millet instead. Swap out the quinoa for millet in this Healthy Quinoa Salad, Curried Kale and Quinoa Salad, or Toasted Quinoa Vegetable Stacks with Green Goddess Dressing. Use it to make granola. Check out DIY Granola – Healthy and Easy and How to Make an Amazing Superfood Trail Mix for how-tos. Use millet instead of rice in a stir-fry. Read Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese Style for recipes and ideas. Use millet in your baking – this lesson in How to Make Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread contains a recipe that uses millet flour. Don’t forget dessert! Mix millet with non-dairy milk, nuts, sugar and spices to make this Creamy Millet and Cashew Pudding.
As you can see, there are a lot of incredible ways to cook with millet so give it a try. You’ll find out that it’s not just for the birds but you’ll be singing as happily as one.
Lead Image Source: Mediterranean Spartan Strength Millet