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Serve millet polenta as a side, or base for main dish

By Beth Dooley, Star Tribune
Published: February 28, 2024, 6:06am

Millet, though tiny, is a powerhouse. Slightly sweet and a bit nutty, it’s loaded with nutrients. Millet is high in protein, fiber and antioxidants as well as vitamin B, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. Plus, it’s gluten-free.

Though we think of it as a grain, millet, like buckwheat, is defined as a grass. It can be milled into flour or cooked like rice and polenta. I often toss a handful of millet into the batter for cookies, muffins and breads and into granola for added crunch.

When simmered in stock or water, millet is tender, yet firm. It’s as toothsome as bulgur yet far more interesting than couscous. It’s delicious in a salad, such as a tabbouleh with freshly chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and lots of good tart vinaigrette. And it also pairs nicely with roasted butternut squash, feta, lemon and herbs. I often add it to a stir-fry of vegetables with chicken or shrimp.

Millet also makes a wonderful polenta, which is the easiest and least fussy means of cooking it into a surefire comforting meal. Serve it soft and fluffy, topped with roasted vegetables, sausages and shredded cheese.

Or let it set up and form it into cakes. Sizzle these up in a skillet to be crisp on the outside and creamy within. They make a terrific side dish to roast chicken or fish, or you can top them with veggies and cheese for a light vegetarian meal. Crown them with a fried egg or simply drizzle with maple syrup for a wonderful breakfast.

Millet is an Old World food that’s so right for today’s kitchen.

Millet Polenta Cakes with Roast Tomatoes and Garlic

Serves 4 to 6. From Beth Dooley.

Note: Find millet in the rice and grains section of co-ops and grocery stores and in the bulk section of co-ops.

1 cup millet (see Note)

3 1/2 c. water

Coarse salt

2 pint cherry tomatoes

1 small onion, diced

2 to 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Crumbled feta cheese, for optional garnish

Pine nuts, for optional garnish

Minced parsley, for optional garnish

Put the millet, water and a generous pinch of salt into a medium pot. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for about 20 to 30 minutes, checking to be sure the millet isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot. The millet is cooked when the liquid is absorbed and the millet resembles a thick polenta. Remove from the heat and allow to stand, stirring once or twice until cool enough to handle, about 20 to 30 minutes.

While the millet is simmering, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread the tomatoes and onions on the baking sheet, drizzle with enough oil to lightly coat and sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast until the tomatoes have burst and shrunken and the onions are nicely browned, about 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Remove from oven and tent with foil to keep the vegetables warm.

With dampened hands, shape the millet into cakes about 3 inches in diameter and an inch or so thick. Film a large skillet with the oil and set over medium-high heat. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, fry the cakes until the bottoms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip the cakes with a spatula and cook until the other side is browned, another 3 to 5 minutes.

Serve the polenta cakes topped with the roasted tomatoes and onions, crumbled feta, pine nuts and minced parsley.