Millet is a grain that has been cultivated in East Asia for about 10 000 years. It is widely grown all over the world for both human and animal consumption. There are about ten different varieties of millet, some of which are also called sorghum. Millet has no gluten and so is ideal for coeliacs (those with gluten allergies), is high in protein so is ideal for vegegarians and vegans, and is "alkalising" which means it balances the acidity of diet that is low in fruit and vegetables and high in simple carbohydrates and meat protein.
My friends Kristina and Max run a company called Conscious Foods which is one of the leading organic food companies in India. In addition to making power snacks, healthy sweets, digestive mix and a wonderful range of sweet and savoury biscuits and "dippers" (one of which is served by Heston Blumenthal in one of his restaurants) they are big time into millet. Kristina explains:
"The millet grown in India is still of an ancient variety. It has not been GMO'd or hybidised to the extent that the millet grown in, say, China or the USA has been. As a result it is more nutritionally dense and easier to digest than American or Chinese millet. It's like a wonder food: balancing, cleansing, full of vitamins and minerals, and easy to digest - we should all be eating more millet."
Kristina was kind enough to give me some samples of their millet flour to use in the bakery. As millet does not have gluten, you need to be content either with flat bread or pancakes (in the bread department) or to raise it with baking powder and/or bicarbonate of soda or combine it with a glutinous flour to add flavour, texture and nutrients. Don't expect millet to rise on its own. No matter how much yeast you add, it will not rise so don't waste it in trying.
So far I have had one failure (I tried to make a farinata, but with millet: don't do it) one good success and one spectacular success. The good success was simply adding the millet flour to a plain whole meal loaf. It was good but the subtle flavour of the millet was overwhelmed by the strong flavour of the whole meal. The recipe in case you want to try it is simple:
Good bread with millet flour added
300 g whole meal flour
200 grams millet flour
800-900 grams water (surprised? I was. Millet is hugely absorbent.)
3 grams dry yeast (1.5 grams instant yeast or 6 grams fresh yeast)
10 g salt
Proof the yeast in the usual way and add in the flours. Pour in the water and begin to knead. It's a sticky job because the millet does not stretch out like wheat flour and it absorbs a huge amount of water. Knead for 15 minutes or so and then let rest 1 hour. Shape and let rest 45 minutes. Bake at 200 C for 45 minutes. I thought I would make one big loaf and I ended up making two.
For the spectacular recipe I thought I would dial down the flour flavour to enable the millet to shine through. I also thought about how I had cooked millet before: dry fried and then boiled and added to a salad; dry fried and then boiled and eaten as a salad (kind of like tabouli); made into porridge with butter and honey and cinnamon and raisins...I did this to think about how I might gussie up the bread and make it super tasty. I decided on adding grated nutmeg and honey to the dough and making it a sourdough to add an acidity to bring out the millet flavour as well. The virdict (three people tried it, one of whom was my armenian taxi driver - don't ask): sensational.
Click here for the recipe.