How the indigenous grain is dominating the table- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

In her recent Instagram post, chef and cookbook author Anahita Dhondy finishes her Millet Monday segment with an easy-peasy egg and okra with barnyard millets (samvat ke chawal) recipe, and as always it looks healthily delicious. Dhondy discovered the “goodness grain” in 2018. In 2023, keeping up with the United Nations’ International Year of Millets, she started her weekly Instagram posts on the grain. Millets—jhangora (barnyard millet), ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet) and kangni (foxtail millet)—have been a kitchen staple in regional cuisine. But it was not until last year that urban India realised there was more to the grain than just relegating it as cattle fodder. Chefs all over the world are coming up with their interpretations of the coarse grain. 

Not long ago, American baker Jonathan Bethony, owner of the Washington-based Seylou, challenged his pastry chef to bake with only millets for a week. Impressed with the results, millet canelé and millet chocolate chip cookies made it to the menu.

In another corner of the world, African celebrity chef Fatmata Binta created soupu kanja with fonio—a variety of millet common in Africa—to launch the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Chefs Challenge in June. In India, chef Thomas Zacharias started the Millet Revival Project in Mumbai, while the Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts launched a holistic programme with dishes like pearl millet pessaratu. Not to be outdone, Pune-based brewery, Great State Aleworks, came up with a millet-based beer. The Indian government is also mulling over promoting the use of grain among the armed forces.

“Millets are versatile and nutritious. Each type has its own unique flavour and texture. One can use the grains as a garnish or incorporate millet flour into the dough for pasta or bread preparations. We can also combine it with other ingredients to create a balance of flavours and textures. For example, you can prepare millet risotto with truffles or a millet pilaf with saffron-infused broth,” says Ravi Kant, executive chef, The Lalit, New Delhi.

From tortillas and crisps to salads, risottos and even brownies, this year has seen the millet revolution owning the culinary world. While restaurants like Indian Accent in Delhi are serenading patrons with bajra khichdi with parmesan, chefs are using ragi flour to make everything, from dimsums to Goan sanna. The fact that the grain can be cooked in various ways, including boiling, steaming, toasting and even fermenting, with each boasting a different flavour profile, is making chefs experiment with it. Recently, culinary virtuoso Vikas Khanna crafted ragi cookies for the Indian Prime Minister during his visit to the US.

“Whole millet serves as a valuable ingredient in salads, soups and stews, while millet flour emerges as a key component in preparing rotis, dosas and idlis. Sceptics should try an indulgent ragi brownie,” says Chef Sombir Choudhary, culinary partner, Jamming Goat, Bengaluru and Goa.

Ragi manni; barley salad; different kinds of millets

Since the grain has a mild flavour, one can experiment with different herbs, spices and seasonings like cinnamon, cardamom, or star anise to enhance the taste. In desserts, millet flour can be used in pie crusts, cakes or cookies, or the grains can be cooked in milk or coconut milk to make a creamy pudding. “Millets can be incorporated into a variety of meals as a basic ingredient, a primary element, or a creative garnish. This gives fine-dining food a distinctive and nutritious twist,” says Chef Ankur Sharma, Raahi Neo Bar and Kitchen, Bengaluru.

The slightly sweet, nutty flavour adds a unique taste to the dish. “A good substitute for rice or wheat, it can be served as standalone appetizers or as accompaniments to main courses or as the main course itself. Our ragi manni made using finger millet is quite a hit with patrons. One could even try innovative dishes such as ragi chakli and bajra tartlets with fruit custard,” says executive chef Sukesh Kanchan, Sana-Di-Ge, New Delhi. So if you are looking for something indulgent yet healthy, it’s time to go back to your roots.

Barnyard Millet 

Barnyard millet   – 60 gm
Chopped onion –   8 gm
Chopped garlic  –  3 gm
Chopped leeks   – 4 gm
Chopped celery    -4 gm
Button mushroom  –  8 gm
Wild mushroom   – 5 gm
Parmesan cheese  –  3 gm
Salt – 2 gm
Black pepper    -1 gm
Butter   – 3 gm
Cream – 2 gm
Sweet corn -10 gm
Capsicum  –  10 gm

1. Soak barnyard millet for 30 minutes
2. In a pan, add some butter
3. After the butter melts, add chopped garlic and sauté 
4. Add some chopped onion, leeks, celery and sauté
5. Add mushrooms, capsicum and sweet corn, and cook for 2 minutes
6. Now add barnyard millet and mix with all ingredients
7. Add some water and let it simmer for 10 minutes
8. Finish the risotto with cooking cream
Recipe courtesy: Chef Ravi Kant

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