Millet is one of those grains you don’t hear an awful lot about. While other grains like quinoa and couscous have become so trendy as to be common on restaurant menus and grocery shelves, millet remains undiscovered by the masses. It was first cultivated in Asia and Africa 6000 years ago, but in recent times, has been used more often as a feed crop than as food for humans. Yet millet is remarkable for its high protein content (16-22%) and its ability to grow under harsh conditions with little water and poor soil. In China and India, millet production is surpassed by only wheat and rice.
Admittedly I’m no expert (as this is my first time cooking millet), but I think part of the bad reputation that millet has garnered is that it tends to be bland and lack the nutty flavor of the more popular grains. Peter Berley gets around that, in this recipe from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by toasting the millet before cooking it, which he claims brings out its “hidden sweetness”. Well, this recipe is nothing if not flavorful. But to be quite honest, it’s not the millet that gives Millet Salad Mexicano its punch. It’s the vibrant combination of cumin, lime juice, jalapenos, and avocados that made me keep sneaking bites as I put the salad together.
I played around with the recipe a little, using a bit more millet than called for (in order to use up our whole stockpile of it), a little less olive oil (my recurrent fear of fat), and frozen corn instead of fresh (it is March, after all). And of course, despite my new advocacy of millet, this dish would work equally well with nearly any other grain of your choosing. All in all, a refreshing end to a day when temperatures nosed into the 80s here in Southern California.
Millet Salad Mexicano (6-8 servings)
2 cups millet, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
coarse sea salt
kernels from 6 ears sweet corn
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from approximately 3 limes)
4 medium jalapeno peppers
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup packed minced fresh cilantro
2 tbsp thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts
2 ripe avocados, diced
4 tomatoes, chopped
freshly milled black pepper
1. Place a heavy skillet (like cast iron) over medium heat for several minutes. When the pan is hot, add the millet and roast, stirring the grains and shaking the pan, until the moisture has cooked off and the millet is dry and very fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan over high heat, combine the millet and water and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed. Spread the miller onto a baking sheet to cool.
3. Steam the corn kernels in a covered steamer over boiling water for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Chill in a sieve under cold running water and drain.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the lime juice, jalapenos, cumin, and 1 tbsp salt. Whisk in the oil. Stir in the miller, corn, cilantro, and scallions. Fold in the avocado and tomatoes and season with black pepper to taste.
5. If desired, chill before serving.