Dec 19, 2014

Incorporating millets into your meals

As 2014 draws to a close, I want to write about an important change I made this year. Being a South Indian, rice has always been a staple food on my plate for years on a daily basis. Though I used to take wheat in the form of chapatis or bread, the proportion is less as compared to rice. Having been aware of the fact that excess consumption of white, polished rice (which is a high glycemic index food) potentially leads to diabetes, I was looking for healthier alternatives. I tried broken wheat as a direct substitute for rice but somehow I didn't like it (though it turns out yummy in the form of a kichdi).

I stumbled upon millets and their health benefits through this blog. I also read in another article that millets used to be the regular food (rice reserved only for special occasions and festivals) during our great grandparents days.

There were 3 challenges that I had to surmount in order to make millets a regular feature on my plate:
1. Sourcing them
2. Learning how to cook and what to cook
3. Liking the taste

After a year, I'm glad I have managed to tackle all of them. I'm sharing my experiences below, which would be useful for someone planning to venture into millets. Take this as a Millets-101 course, if you will :-)

Please do keep in mind that anything in moderation is the key. Don't switch completely from rice/wheat to millets. Ensure you mix them up in a week. I have been consuming millets 3-4 times in a week, along with rice / wheat / beaten rice on other days. If you have thyroid issues, do check with your doctor before starting millets.

There are multiple varieties of millets available, the popular ones listed below:

  1. Foxtail millet (thinai in Tamil)
  2. Kodo millet (varagu)
  3. Barnyard millet (kudiraivali)
  4. Little millet (saamai)
  5. Finger millet (kezhvaragu or ragi)
  6. Pearl millet (kambu or bajra)
  7. Proso millet (panivaragu)

Each variety has different proportions of proteins, iron, calcium and other minerals. They are high in fibre too (which makes them a low glycemic index food). I usually stock 500 gms of each variety and prepare them in rotation, so I get all the individual benefits.

Millets have become quite common in Chennai and I have been able to procure them from rice mandis and organic stores. In Bangalore, you can easily get finger millet and pearl millet from any provisions store. You can also check out organic stores or visit one of the Green Bazaar events.

You can also order online from Dhanyam organic store. Town Essentials has foxtail millet and finger millet.

I usually make one of the first 4 millet varieties listed above in place of rice for lunch. Cooking them is simple. Take 1/2 cup of the millets, rinse well. Keep them in a bowl with 1 cup of water. Cook in a pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles. 1:2 is the ratio I follow and it comes out well. It can be mixed with sambhar, kuzhambu, dal fry, rasam or curd.

You can also make breakfast/dinner dishes like idli, dosa, oothappam, pongal or adai with millets. Payasams / sweet pongal dishes turn out yummy too.

This is the proportion I follow for idli / dosa:
4 cups of one specific millet
1 cup of urad dal
1 tsp of methi seeds

Soak urad dal and methi seeds together for 4 hours.
Soak millets separately for 4 hours.
Grind urad dal + methi seeds together into a thick batter. Then grind millets coarsely.
Mix both these batters together.
Add salt and leave it to ferment for 8-10 hours.

You can also try with 2 cups of millets + 2 cups of idli rice instead of 4 cups of millets. The dosa made with this proportion comes out well and there is absolutely no taste difference when compared to regular rice dosa.

Thanks to many food bloggers, you can find many millets based recipes when you google it (also check in youtube).

Finger millet or ragi is an excellent source of calcium. I usually add a few tsp of ragi flour while making chapatis or mix the flour in dosa batter. The same technique can be tried with pearl millet flour too.

You can also make a healthy, wholesome ragi porridge for breakfast.

4 tsp of ragi flour (if you can make/get sprouted ragi flour, even better)
1 tsp of jaggery
1 cup of water
chopped almonds and walnuts.

Take ragi flour in a pan. Lightly dry roast in medium flame till nice aroma comes (in 3-4 min).

Add water and whisk well. Let it boil. Once it thickens, switch off. Add a tsp of either palm jaggery or regular jaggery, warm milk and mix to your required consistency. Garnish with chopped almonds and walnuts.

I find very little difference in taste when it comes to idli/dosa made with millets. As for substituting them for rice, you start to get comfortable after a few times. So keep trying!

I have noticed that my weight is in control and I feel light after a millets based meal. It doesn't give you the "full" or bloated feeling. You also tend to eat less quantity as compared to white rice.

Start off 2015 with a commitment towards your health, by including millets and other grains in your plate.

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. Happy to help!

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