Millet is an ancient seed, originally hailing from Africa and northern China, and it remains a staple in the diets of about a third of the world's population. Rich in iron, B vitamins and calcium, millet has a mild corn flavor and is naturally gluten-free. Sure, on first glance you might be tempted to think that raw millet looks like birdseed. But these little yellow beads have a really lovely and light texture when cooked, are relatively quick-cooking because of their small size, and are incredibly versatile in dishes ranging all the way from breakfast to dinner.
When preparing millet, I often toast it in a skillet before adding any liquid to enhance the nutty flavor of the grain. Then, there are two general ways that you can cook it. The first will result in a fluffy, whole-grain side dish much like quinoa (you'll find these directions below).
The second way is to use more water (3 cups instead of 2 cups) to result in a creamy, porridge with a polenta-like consistency — great for breakfasts. If you're going this route, stir it much more frequently. This creamy version is also fantastic because you can pour it into a pan to cool, slice it as you would polenta, and fry it into croquettes or savory squares.
Questions About Millet
How much cooked millet does 1 cup millet yield?
1 cup dry, raw millet yields about 3 ½ cups cooked millet.
How much liquid do I need to cook millet?
To cook 1 cup of millet in a pilaf-style (as described below), you'll need 2 cups of water. If you want to make a creamier porridge, increase the water to 3 cups.
How long does it take to cook millet?
Millet takes a few minutes to toast, about 15 minutes to cook, and 10 minutes to fluff. All told, about 30 minutes total cook time.
Shouldn't I always rinse my grains before cooking them?
Not necessarily. The only grain I habitually rinse is quinoa because of its bitter coating, saponin. I don't find it necessary or beneficial to rinse millet. Sometimes you'll see little black pebble-like bits in your millet, and these are simply the unhulled grain. Just pick them out and continue on.
What are the different ways I can use millet in the kitchen?
Millet is commonly cooked as a porridge to enjoy in the morning (great when you tire of oatmeal!), but there are many other ways to use millet. You can toss raw millet into cookies, muffins or quick breads for extra crunch. I love using it in granola for that reason. Use it to thicken soups, or as a base for warm grain salads of your choosing. You can also buy millet grits which are extremely quick-cooking, and are wonderful in any preparation you'd think to use polenta or grits.
Where can I find millet?
You can purchase millet and/or millet grits at co-ops and stores like Whole Foods or online from retailers like Bob's Red Mill
How to Cook MilletMakes about 3 1/2 cups
While I list the butter as optional here, it really helps keep the millet from sticking together, and a little bit of salt goes a long way.
What You NeedIngredients
1 cup raw millet
2 cups water (or broth, if you'd prefer)
¼ teaspoon salt, optional
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional
2-quart saucepan with lid
Measuring cup and spoons
1. Measure millet and cooking liquid: You'll need 1 cup of raw millet and 2 cups of cooking liquid (water or broth).
2. Toast millet: In a large, dry saucepan, toast the raw millet over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until it turns a rich golden brown and the grains become fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn.
3. Add the water and salt to the pan: Since the pan is hot, the water will sputter a bit when you pour it in. After adding water and salt, give the millet a good stir.
4. Bring the liquid to a boil: Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil.
5. Lower the heat and simmer: Decrease the heat to low, drop in the butter and cover the pot. Simmer until the grains absorb most of the water (they'll continue soaking it up as they sit), about 15 minutes. Avoid the temptation to peek a great deal or stir too much (unless its sticking to the bottom). Stirring too vigorously will break up the grains and change the texture.
6. Remove From Heat and Let Stand: Like most grains, millet needs a little time off the heat to fully absorb the liquid. Allow it to sit, covered and removed from heat, for 10 minutes.
7. Fluff and Serve! After millet sits, fluff it with a fork. Taste and add additional salt if you'd like. Millet does not keep well and is best served warm (see Additional Notes below). ]
• To make millet porridge, increase the liquid to 3 cups and stir every few minutes as the millet simmers.
• In terms of texture, some of millet's little beads will cook more quickly than others. You'll likely have some softer grains and some chewy or even crunchy grains. I find this to be a good thing!
• In addition, millet is one thirsty grain and doesn't keep incredibly well overnight. So while I often double or triple many grain recipes to have leftovers for the week, I don't do this with millet as I find leftovers to be quite dry.
• Millet is best served warm.
More Ways to Cook with Millet
• Warm Millet, Carrot and Kale Salad with Curry-Scented Dressing - New York Times
• Warm Millet and Broccoli - Eden Kitchen
• Tomato, Basil and Millet Salad - Whole Foods Market
• Springtime Stir-fried Millet - Cookie and Kate
• Millet Cakes - Weelicious
• Millet Burgers with Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pecorino - Epicurious
• Millet and Pumpkin Winter Salad - Green Kitchen Stories
• Millet Chickpea Kale Pizza - Vegan Richa
Related: Good Grains: What is Millet?
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For more whole grain recipes, my cookbook, "Whole Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons" (Ten Speed Press, 2013) will be out next December. Follow my weekly blog, A Sweet Spoonful, for book updates and a slew of additional whole-grain breakfast (and beyond) recipes.
(Images: Megan Gordon)