Bland in flavor and often mushy in texture, millet may not inspire culinary excitement, but it’s versatile, nourishing, and gluten-free. This guide to millet offers tips on buying, ideas for using, and plenty of links to recipes.
If this tiny, round yellow seed looks familiar to you, it may be because it’s also a common component of birdseeds mixes. But this versatile grain isn’t just for the birds; let’s start exploring …
Background and history
Millet holds a venerable place in the history of cultivated grains. It was widely used in China before it was overtaken by rice, and its recorded use stretches back to ancient Egypt.
Millet has long been a staple in many parts of Africa since it can thrive even in very arid soil. It’s a widely used grain in African cuisines around the continent. It’s fairly prominent in Indian cuisine as well.
Millet’s greatest claim to fame is arguably its favored use among the Hunza people of the Himalayan foothills, known for their longevity. Today, millet is grown around the world, including in North America. Alas, only a small percentage of the crop is used for human consumption, while the rest is used as birdseed and farm animal feed.
Buying and storing millet
Millet is a staple in natural foods stores and Indian groceries, where it is sold packaged or in bulk. If buying in bulk, make sure it’s from a place with good turnover so you’ll be ensured freshness. Purchasing online is always an option. One of the most popular brands in North America is Bob’s Red Mill.
How long does millet last? Millet has a long shelf life, but like other whole grains, it can go rancid if kept at room temperature for too long. Purchase only what you’ll be using within a few months, and store in an airtight contianer, like a quart-size canning jar.
Uncooked millet freezes well, packed into an airtight container, for longer storage.
Puffed millet: You might also look for puffed millet in the cereal aisle of natural foods stores. Think of it as a smaller version of puffed rice or puffed oats. It’s mainly used in cold cereal, either on its own or combined with other cereal grains. It’s good for making sweet treats like these Peanut Butter Chocolate Puffed Millet Bars.
A highly digestible food containing 6 grams of protein in a cooked 1-cup serving, millet compares favorably with other grains. It’s a good source of the minerals phosphorus and magnesium, a moderate source of iron, and contains notable amounts of potassium.
Millet is a standout in calcium content compared with other grains. It also has a good range of B-complex vitamins. Here is a complete nutritional profile of millet.
Is millet gluten-free?
The short answer is yes. If it’s a concern for you, make sure to buy millet from a source that’s certified gluten-free so there’s no issue with cross-contamination. Learn more here.
How to cook millet
Toast first (optional): Toasting the grain before cooking gives it a richer, nuttier flavor. Use 2 teaspoons of neutral vegetable oil for every cup of raw grain used Heat the oil in a wide skillet. Add the millet and stir to coat the grain with the oil. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, until aromatic and starting to turn a darker shade. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes. Then, proceed to cook as directed.
The water-to-grain proportion suggested varies a bit, according the source. If you buy it packaged, follow instructions — though I’ve found that even specific directions on packaged grains often don’t call for enough water.
The average recommendation is 2 1/2 to 3 parts water to 1 part grain; the more water used, the mushier the outcome (which is good if you’re going for a porridge-like consistency).
Bring water to a boil in a roomy saucepan, stir in the millet, reduce the heat, and simmer gently with the cover ajar for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the millet is tender enough to eat or has burst open for use as a mushier porridge.
You can cut down a bit on cooking time by preparing in a pressure cooker Instant Pot®. Here are some directions and tips from Minimalist Baker. You can also cook millet using a rice cooker. Here are more tips: Millet Recipes and How to Cook Millet.
Ideas and recipes for using millet
Millet porridge for breakfast: Cook as directed above. When the water is absorbed, add 3/4 cup plant-based milk for every cup of uncooked millet that was used. Cook over low heat until it, too, is absorbed. Serve in bowls (1 cup cooked porridge is a filling serving) with sweetener, dried fruits, and nuts.
A simple bed of grain: Substitute millet for rice, quinoa, couscous, etc. as a bed of grain for bean dishes and stir-fries. You may want to pep the millet up a bit with a little vegan butter, salt, and pepper.
The original couscous: Before couscous came to be defined as quick-cooking semolina, millet was the grain used in traditional Moroccan couscous. Try a contemporary take: Millet Couscous with Roasted Carrots.
Millet casseroles: Use well-cooked millet in casseroles for more substance, layered with vegetables and vegan cheese. Try this luscious Vegetable Millet Casserole.
Stir-fry booster: Add a small amount of cooked millet right into vegetable stir-fries to give them more heft and texture. Here’s a recipe for a vegetable-rich stir-fry incorporating millet (omit the honey or swap in agave to make this recipe vegan).
Salad grain: With flavorful vegetables and a bold vinaigrette, millet makes a good salad grain, used much the same way you might use quinoa or couscous. Try it in tabbouleh and delectable Greek Millet Salad with Tofu Feta.
Pilaf grain: Use millet in place of rice, quinoa, and other grains in pilafs. It’s particularly good in Indian-inspired pilafs using dried fruits, toasted nuts, sautéed onion, and even a little fresh fruit like apple or pear. Here’s a lovely recipe for One-Pot Millet Pilaf with Vegetables & Turmeric.
Vegetable stuffer: The texture of millet makes it as perfect stuffing for vegetables. It works well in bell peppers, eggplant, and especially winter squashes. Try these simple Millet Stuffed Peppers.
Buddha bowl grain: Use cooked millet as a bed of grain in Buddha bowls featuring colorful fresh vegetables, just as you would other grains. Find some ideas in Beautiful Buddha Bowls You Can Make Without a Recipe.
African millet recipes: As mentioned earlier, millet is a widely used grain on the African continent. Here is a collection of recipes for African millet dishes, many of which are naturally plant-based.
Millet and corn: These two mild golden foods are complementary in terms of flavor and texture. Combine cooked millet with cooked fresh or frozen corn kernels, and stir in a little vegan butter. Add vegan cheese and fresh herbs if you’d like, and season with salt and pepper.
Millet burgers: Combined with legumes, and judiciously spiced, millet is a good grain to incorporate into homemade vegan burgers. Here’s one: Millet Black Bean Patties.
Popped millet: Millet can pop, resulting in something that’s like miniature popcorn. Here’s a tutorial.