Mix Up Your Meal with Millet

20130828-201647.jpgIt’s not just for the birds.

Millet is one of the newest additions to my pantry, and it’s quickly becoming a staple in my diet, not only because of it’s pretty fantastic nutritional quality, but also for it’s great taste, texture, and versatility.

Lately, I’ve been expanding my repertoire of whole grains – rice, pasta, bread, and oats tend to get old after awhile, and some of them aren’t the healthiest for us to consume either. For example, wheat, even if it’s whole wheat, can really spike your blood sugar as well as cause trouble for anyone who is sensitive to gluten (and it seems like more and more people are these days, and many don’t even know it). Plus, anything overly refined or processed is better left on the store shelves, in my opinion, except for maybe the occasional treat. Even grains like rice have been found to leave an acid ash in the body, which is not good for our health (see below) (2). Millet, however, is one of the grains (along with amaranth and quinoa) that is not only a gluten-free whole grain, but also one that helps balance our pH in the proper, slightly-alkaline range (2).

Millet is an ancient grain originating from China. When cooked, it has a slightly sweet taste and retains a “harder” consistency, which makes it a great replacement for couscous (made from bulgur wheat). Nutrition-wise, millet packs a powerful punch:

  • it’s unprocessed, so it retains all parts of the grain (bran, germ, and endosperm). The bran and germ are vital for nutrition – that’s where all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals are! Refinement leaves only the endosperm, pure starch, which will surely send your blood sugar on a nice rollercoaster ride.
  • The high fiber content helps keep your blood sugar stabilized, which decreases your risk of diabetes, keeps your digestive system moving smoothly, and provides sustained energy; fiber even binds and holds onto cholesterol, thereby helping to lower cholesterol levels.
  • millet is a good source of protein, for extra staying power.
  • it’s gluten-free
  • it can help decrease your cravings for refined, processed carbohydrates
  • millet is one of the few alkaline grains: as it digests, all food leaves either an alkaline or acid ash in the body, which contributes to our overall pH. A slightly alkaline pH is crucial for proper cellular functioning and body health – it effects everything from how well your nerves fire to how well your heart pumps. An acidic pH has been said to be at the root of so many diseases; it also contributes to weight gain, toxic buildup, wrinkles, and bloating, and the typical American Diet is chock-full of acid-causing foods (2).

The versatility of millet makes it wonderful to include in your diet in a variety of ways! You can make it into a sweet or a savory dish, depending on what other ingredients you add. It’s also perfect for any meal of the day – use it at breakfast to replace your morning oatmeal or cereal dish (hot or cold!); use it in refreshing, cool “pasta” salad to take to your next get-together; or replace your normal rice or potatoes with a buttery, garlicky, or italian-seasoned, etc. side dish at dinner tonight.

Here’s one of my favorite recipes for millet. I love the flavor the Indian spices add to the dish (and it helps kick my cravings for Indian food)! Plus, it’s perfect to make this time of year with all the fresh, seasonal produce at your local market!
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Indian Summer Millet (serves ~4)

Ingredients:
– 2 cups cooked millet
(~1/2 cup uncooked, soaked overnight*)
– 1/2 cup green peas
– 1/2 large bell pepper, chopped
– 3/4 cup broccoli, chopped
– 1/2 small-medium yellow onion, chopped
– a few leaves of kale, coarsely chopped

Seasonings (add to your taste: I love spicy foods,
so I add quite a lot of curry and paprika)
– salt and pepper
– curry powder
– paprika
– turmeric

Directions:

  1. Cook millet: Add ~1/2 cup soaked millet to 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stir, cover, and reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Set aside.
  2. In a frying pan, saute onion in liquid of choice (I just use water or coconut oil) for 3-4 minutes, until slightly brown and soft.
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  3. Add peas, bell pepper, and broccoli to pan. Add in spices. Cook another 3-4 minutes or to your preference (I still like a little crunch to my veggies, and less cooking time retains more nutrients!)
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  4. Add kale last, and mix in. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until kale color brightens.
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  5. Add millet to the frying pan. Mix and serve!

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I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Have you tried millet? What’s your favorite starch/grain, and what is your favorite way to make it? Share below!

* I recommend soaking grains 8-12 hours in water at room temperature and then rinsing them in a fine mesh sieve prior to cooking. Because grains are seeds, they are protected from the environment by a hard casing that provides protection from the environment, including our digestive system. Soaking starts the germination process and decreases the phytic acid (an anti-nutrient that binds minerals), making the grain more easily digestible, so that your body can get more nutrients out of them (1). Although this requires some planning ahead, I’ve noticed that it helps my digestion. You can save time by making a huge batch of your grain of choice in advance and save the rest for leftovers, another dish later in the week, breakfast, etc. Grains hold up well in the fridge for at least a week, in my experience.

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Soaking prep: put desired amount of millet (measured) in a bowl. Pour filtered water into the bowl until grains are submerged.

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Then cover with a paper towel. Let sit at least 8-12 hours. Rinse prior to cooking.

References:
1. Kimball, Katie. “Soaking Whole Grains: Why Do It?” Kitchen Stewardship. 28 Aug 2013. <http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/11/30/soaking-whole-grains-why-do-it/&gt;.
2. Snyder, Kimberly. “The Beauty Detox Solution.” Harlequin Enterprises. 2011.pg 26, 110.

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