Sometimes no matter how careful we think we’re being to steer clear of trouble, life is rough on us. Sometimes we need a nice warm bowl of something comforting and easy on the tummy. A bowl of something that is like putting on a soft flannel shirt, or cuddling up under a quilt. For me, that something is millet.
When I was in my 20’s I worked at a small press that was like the legal newspaper version of WKRP in Cincinnati. Everyone was eccentric. Each day it was a miracle we met our noon deadline. The editor would spend the morning attempting to reheat his instant coffee in the microwave in the back shop where we typesetters and paste-up people worked. He never succeeded. He would run in, place his cold mug of java in the microwave, and dash off to pull headlines off the wire service or finish a news story. When he came back, the coffee was once again, inevitably, cold. He would taste it, wince, put it back in the microwave, and repeat the same comedy routine over again. And again. I doubt the man every had a sip of hot coffee. The publisher was an obsessive reaarranger of furniture and work spaces. If you were out sick for a day, or gone to an appointment, you would return to find your work space completely rearranged and “improved, ” with the publisher standing by waiting for you to thank him. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t find anything anymore.
It helped that most of us really liked each other. We spent lots of time joking about our impossible work situation. I once had a particularly hard time on the phone with a subscriber who wanted an answer to her question late on a Friday afternoon when literally anyone who could possibly answer it was gone for the weekend. After explaining this to her in several different ways several different times, I finally said, “There’s no one here who can answer your question. Would you like me to make something up?” I really had to hold the phone a good foot away from my ear for several minutes after I made that slip.
To cheer myself up after such a stressful day, I would sometimes decide to begin it over again by having breakfast for dinner. In the very late seventies, omelettes were still the craze, so that meant an omelette and toast. Now when I want to have breakfast for dinner, I make something with millet. It’s every bit as comforting and ever so much more healthy than the eggs I used to eat. It goes with nearly everything, whether savory or sweet: mushrooms, parsley, vegan “cheeze” sauce, and, of course, winter squash and miso, as in my Midwinter Soy Free Miso Soup. Or if you really want to have a sweet breakfast, it’s great with bananas and almond milk, mangoes, blueberries, you name it.
Though we call millet a grain, it’s actually a small seed. Cultures in Africa and Asia have long known about the nutritional wonders of millet, but here in the United States we are slow to catch on and use it mostly for bird seed. But millet is actually full of nutritional goodies. You can read about 12 health benefits of millet in this article at Real Food for Life. Here are some of my favorite ones: it’s alkalizing and easy to digest. It hydrates your colon. It feeds microflora in your intestines. It’s high in magnesium and niacin. It contains tryptophan which helps produce serotonin. And, it’s gluten free.
After I got over my Pinterest debaucle, I wandered around on it, clicking on things that looked good, on boards that had pinned my Midwinter Soy Free Miso Soup. And I found this gem at Roxane’s Natural Kitchen: Creamy Coconut Millet with Potatoes. Since I began eating this way, I follow Dr. Swank’s advice faithfully and do not eat coconut, which is high in saturated fat. But it looked so good–and comforting–I determined to find a way to recreate it without the coconut milk. And I did. Thanks to Roxanne for her wonderful recipe, and the inspired combination of lemon, ginger, garlic and cloves.
Almost Coconut Millet with Potatoes and Carrots
I followed Roxane’s basic recipe technique, with the following changes. Because I was not going to be using coconut milk, I wanted to amp up the sweetness and spices. The original recipe directs us to bring five cups of water to the boil for cooking the millet, carrots and potatoes. I decided instead to use leftover pasta water from cooking corn pasta. This slightly sweet, starchy broth built in a mild sweetness from the beginning. The millet is added added and cooked for 20 minutes; the carrots and potatoes are added for the last ten of these. She directs us to drain this in a colander. Though I did this the first time, the millet and the veggies had absorbed all the broth, so there were only a few drops to strain out and a strainer to clean, so the next time I skipped this step. It may be that I live in a dry climate, and the millet soaked up more moisture, or it may be a function of the starch water. In any event, I saved myself a step!
To make my “almost coconut milk” I called on my old friend the Japanese Sweet Potato. As you may know from my Japanese Sweet Potato to the Rescue post, cooked and mashed they are a marvelous thickener and stand in for tofu or soy mayonaise. So I mashed up about 1/4 cup of peeled Japanese Sweet potato and blended it with 1 3/4 cup almond milk and 1 tbs of coconut extract (or more to taste). It is thinner than actual coconut milk, of course, but the starch and the sweetness of the potato thicken and sweeten the mixture, and blend well with the coconut extract.
Because I was not using salt or oil, I doubled or tripled the spices–I used several whole cloves, more ginger, and more lemon zest. The results were delicious. The combination of clove and lemon zest was particularly appealing to me.
1 cup millet
5 cups broth (something with a little sweetness, like corn pasta water, or water left over from boiling sweet potatoes, or broth made with winter squash)
1 medium sized yellow potato
1 medium carrot
1 cup of onion
2 or 2 garlic cloves, grated
1 tbs of ginger
6-8 whole cloves
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
1/4 cup mashed Japanese Sweet Potato
1 3/4 cup almond milk
1 tbs coconut extract (or more to taste)
Bring the broth to a vigorous boil. Add millet, and continue to boil vigorously for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the diced potato and carrot. When all the water is absorbed, it’s done. Set aside. (If all the broth is not absorbed after 20 minutes, drain and set aside.)
While millet is cooking mash cooked sweet potato and combined with almond milk and coconut extract in a small bowl.
Once millet is cooked, in a large non-stick skillet, heat a tablespoon of water or broth. When it boils, add the grated garlic and ginger. Cook for one minute, adding a bit of water if necessary. Add chopped onion and cook for 3-5 minutes, until soft and translucent, adding bits of water or broth as needed. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest to the almond milk-sweet potato mixture. Add the almond milk mixture to the onions. Bring to a boil and cook on high for a minute, scraping the pan as you go. You will see it start to thicken a bit. Add the millet mixture and stir and cook until the milk is mostly absorbed. Serve with extra lemon zest or a sprinkling of ground cloves it desired.
This slightly sweet, slightly spicy, slightly tangy dish of millety goodness has been a comfort mainstay for me the last few weeks. If I could think of a bowl of food that might be the equivalent of a hug, this would be it.