Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Thrill a Millet

I have always kept the standard grains on hand in my pantry (wheat flour and germ, oats, rice, rice flour, cornmeal) but haven't often strayed beyond them. I'm finding, however, that the more I cook with millet, the more I love it.

This small round yellow grain is most often seen in birdseed, and so when I use millet, those people who don't understand my vegetarian ways ("So what do you eat? Grass and twigs? Nuts and berries?") have a field day.

Frankly, they do't know what they're missing. Millet is one of the most densely nutritious grains in the world, loaded with iron, magnesium, phosphorus, B vitamins, and all sorts of other good things. It's easily digested and grows well in poorly fertilized and dry soils, making it a very popular crop in other areas of the world.

As for me, I like the taste and the crunch of millet. I've used it with cauliflower to make a satisfying substitute for mashed potatoes, and earlier this fall I added it, uncooked, to a batch of pumpkin muffins, giving them a surprising heartiness.

This morning, though, I decided to try the millet pancake recipe found in The Vegetarian Hearth for my breakfast. While the grain simmered in soymilk and water, absorbing the liquid and fluffing up yet retaining a hint of the crunch, I had time to clean the bathroom. And when I returned, it didn't take much longer to finish making the batter so that I could fry the cakes while I juiced an orange and brewed a big mug of coffee.

The author suggested topping the millet pancakes with sour cream, but since I rarely have that on hand, I reached for the plain nonfat yogurt I usually use in its place and discovered that the tang of the yogurt blended well with the mellow warmth of the millet. I also tried a dollop of pear-pine nut-walnut preserves on one little cake and found it pleasing as well.

But best of all, I enjoyed the pancakes completely unadorned, allowing the simplicity and complexity of the millet to shine through. Tender but with a bite, bland but with a nutty, almost corn-like flavor, the millet stood very well on its own.

I exercised restraint and only ate the first four cakes (about 3" diameter), saving the other four for lunch or dinner. (I suspect they will go excellently with steamed kale or the leftover squash.) But I know already that this recipe will become a regular favorite in my house.

Won't you give this humble grain a home, too?

Millet Pancakes

This is a slight variation of the recipe found in The Vegetarian Hearth, using yogurt for the farmer cheese and adding the flour to the batter instead of dredging the cakes in it. Make these any time of day... they're great on their own, but also work well as a side dish.

1 c millet
2 c milk or soy milk (unsweetened)
1/2 c water
1 tsp salt
1 T sugar
1/3 c plain nonfat yogurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 T flour (any kind, really)
2 T canola oil

In a medium saucepan, bring the millet, milk, water, and salt to a boil. Simmer, covered for 20 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in sugar, yogurt, egg, and flour.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Drop the millet mixture into lumps about 3" diameter and press with the back of the spoon to spread the batter more evenly. Fry until golden brown, turning once, about 8 to 10 minutes in all.

Serve immediately, topped with nonfat yogurt... or not!

Makes 12-16 pancakes, serving 4

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