Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Millet, another great gluten free option!

I recently have tried a new grain that's gluten-free, and I like it! So does my three-year old, hooray!

I realize, once again, that if we look to various cultures, we can find lots of good, healthy alternatives to wheat. Millet has been cultivated in Asia for the last 10,000 years, I read in Wikipedia. It's nutritious, with its protein composition as good as whole wheat and rich in B vitamins(Wikipedia). For those who cannot have gluten, this is another nutritious whole grain that adds fiber to the diet! It can be cooked whole and served as a hot cereal(add sugar/honey), or can be served savoury(with meat and vegetable stews). Or it can be ground into flour and used for flat breads(as the only flour even), or used in baking, with up to 25% of the flour blend being millet(Living Without Magazine). In "Great Grains, an insider's guide to choosing and using gluten-free flours," (Living Without Magazine, Dec/Jan 2009), millet flour is described as having a "mildly sweet, nut-like flavor."

I had somehow thought that millet would be pretty much like cornmeal in flavor and in nutrition. Not so. Comparing it to other hot breakfast cereals, it's more flavorful than grits, and more nutritious. It's more delicate than cornmeal. It cooks up kind of fluffy. I like it better than quinoa for a breakfast cereal, not as strong of a flavor(though I eat quinoa alternately, too- it's good with sliced fresh plums or grapefruit).

In India they use millet flour(bajari) alone or with sorghum flour(jowar) to make flat bread(bhakri). I searched online and found a well-done tutorial on how to make bajari bhakri- and I was excited that these tortillas were very easy to pat out, and remained flexible when cooked! I learned a tip here that will aid in making any gluten-free tortillas, whether they are rice or millet or sorghum... another break through for me! I will publish a separate post for flatbread. Or go directly to the website with the tutorial:

Since I sampled millet a couple weeks ago, I have made it in three ways. First, I cooked it as a breakfast cereal. For this, rinse the grain and boil with a 3 1/2: 1 ratio of water to grain. (For 1 cup grain, use 3 1/2 cups water). I've read that before boiling millet, you first you toast the grain until there's a nice aroma. I haven't done this yet. Boil for at least 20 minutes; it may need 35. I haven't mastered how long it boils on my stove for perfect texture. If it's boiled too long, it does get a bit mushy, kind of like rice does when overcooked. When cooked and cool enough to eat, we serve it with non-dairy buttery spread and honey. Yum!

Second way I've tried using millet: flatbread, or tortillas. As I mentioned earlier, I found a website that has a very helpful tutorial. You'll be able to make gluten-free tortillas without messing with crumbly, hard to roll-out dough! There was a draw-back for these tortillas, they did have a slightly bitter taste, I thought. It was just fine for eating with honey and non-dairy spread, and would be great for a savoury wrap or fajita. However, my girls didn't eat them, and I don't know if they didn't like the taste or if it's just that tortillas are a food that they haven't had much of- they haven't eaten any tortillas very well at all- homemade oat ones that I liked, or purchase brown rice ones). I did read on one of the blogs I checked that millet flour doesn't have the bitter taste that sorghum does. I remember reading that when baking with sorghum, you can add some molasses to help cut out the bitter flavor.

Back to millet- the third way I've used it now is in cookies. And oh....they are the best gluten-free cookies I've had!!! Actually, they are some of the best cookies I've had, period...ranked among and above other wheat cookies. For the cookies, I adapted my mom's "Whole Wheat Zucchini-Oat Cookies." Instead of wheat flour and rolled oats, I used 50% brown rice flour, 25% millet flour, and 25% starch(half of that was potato starch and half was cornstarch). I added a couple drops of molasses to cut out the hint of bitterness that I tasted(I suspect that millet has saponins like quinoa does, I'll have to look this up). I made a big batch of these cookies and have them in the freezer. Every time I take them out and thaw a couple to eat, I am still amazed at how good these gluten-free cookies are! I'll post the cookie recipe hopefully this week.

I'm so happy to have another gluten-free grain to cook with that has good nutrition. I am very content with using oats/brown rice/tapioca starch for baking, but recently have been on a trial diet excluding oats. What a relief to find millet! For those who don't use oats, this can add so much to the basic gluten-free blends of rice, tapioca and potato starch. Actually, even for those who can have oats, if you have oatmeal frequently for breakfast, millet can be added for variety!

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