Secret ingredient: Millet
WHAT IS MILLET?
An ancient seed, millet comes in many different forms and from many different places throughout the world. Grown for thousands of years, so that it is perhaps the oldest food known to man, it requires little water and thrives in hot climates with poor soil.
The common millet (Panicum miliaceum) is cultivated to mill into flour, for animal fodder, and is also hulled and sold as a breakfast cereal and grain for baking. You can also buy it flaked, popped, and ground for baby
WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
Highly nutritious, millet tastes a little like a nutty couscous. It's rich in magnesium, vitamins A and B, and contains good levels of calcium and iron. Like quinoa, it is rich in amino acids and protein and contains excellent levels of soluble and insoluble fibre. It is cooling by nature, strengthens the kidneys, balances dryness, and benefits overly acidic conditions such as arthritis. Known as the 'Queen of Grains', it is the only alkalising grain you will find in the grain family, and it contains no gluten.
Once the outer husk of the grain has been removed millet becomes highly digestible and is an excellent "building" grain for babies or for those recovering from illness, especially when it's made into porridge. It can be used both sweet and savoury, added to baking (cakes, muffins and biscuits), and it makes fine dumplings, breads and flatbreads, burgers or patties.
WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
You'll find millet available in most health food shops and specialty food stores, though some supermarkets also stock it.
HOW DO I COOK IT?
When cooked in water (much as you'd cook rice) for 15-18 minutes (it requires little or no salt), it
can be used as a gluten-free kind of couscous, and is good served warm or added to salads.
If you cook it for a bit longer, say 20-30 minutes, thanks to its stickiness you can prepare it like polenta. Unhulled millet can be sprouted and added to salads and stir-fries. Some people toast their millet in a dry pan before cooking to add extra flavour.
WHAT CAN I USE INSTEAD?
If you're looking for a gluten-free replacement, try rice, quinoa or amaranth. Couscous or cracked wheat are also good substitutes, but be aware they are not gluten free.
Sarah La Touche is a member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers and a holistic nutritionist, cookbook author, facilitator and food writer. She also hosts gastronomic tours in France and Spain and runs specialist cook schools.