Healthy Cooking: Slow Cooker Breakfast Millet

Editor’s note:

Healthy Cooking is a new column by food writer Kellie Hynes. We expect that the column will resonate with readers who want to feed their families wholesome, nutritious dishes, but who find it difficult to get a home-cooked meal on the table. We’re delighted to have Kellie take on the challenge of developing seasonal recipes that are practicable for the home cook. The column will run biweekly.

Sure, I had heard the tales from others who had been there before me. But like the vastness of the ocean, and the stars in a Montana night sky, I couldn’t truly appreciate the depths of a teenage boy’s appetite until I saw it with my own eyes.

Last semester, my high school freshman had THE growth spurt — the one where the length of his jeans increased twice, but his waist size stayed the same. The more he grew, the more I reacted, hurling hot breakfasts befitting lumberjacks and linemen into his gaping maw. Bacon, eggs and potatoes kept him sated until lunch, except that I worried his long, skinny arteries were becoming cholesterol-clogged with every bite. Hot oatmeal has long been my go-to healthy breakfast, but even I had to admit that bowls of gray gumminess wouldn’t make my kid throw off his blankets and run to the kitchen.

A good friend solved my problem when she suggested we try millet, an ancient grain (read: not modified, not refined) that has been enjoyed in Asia and Africa for hundreds of years.

Silly me, I thought millet was for the birds — as in, literally, birdseed. But, readers, cooked millet is oh-so delicious, with a rich sweetness that tastes like homemade cornbread. Millet’s texture varies from creamy and porridge-y to fluffy and rice-like, depending on how much liquid you add. It is naturally gluten-free and contains generous amounts of plant-based protein and appetite-taming fiber. (Even if you aren’t a ravenous boy, millet helps you feel full so you can skip midmorning snacks, if that happens to be one of your New Year’s goals.) Millet is also rich in iron and vitamin B-6, which helps even the most sluggish teen feel healthy and strong.

You can buy bags of millet in the flour aisle of most supermarkets, and in the bulk food bins in health food stores.

Millet can be made on the stovetop, but the easiest way to prepare breakfast millet is overnight, in a slow cooker. Simply toss your millet grains, nondairy coconut milk or rice milk, water and a little salt into the slow cooker the night before, then wake up to yummy hotness in the morning. To prevent the millet from overcooking, make sure your ingredients fill the slow cooker at least halfway. If you have a large, brisket-sized slow cooker, double the recipe and enjoy it again. (Millet will keep covered in the refrigerator for at least three days, but it does tend to dry out. Splashes of milk, or, if you’re feeling wild, cream, bring it back to life.)

Millet also pops up beautifully in a rice cooker, a fact that helps justify my “one use” kitchen gadget obsession. The same recipe cooked in a rice maker yields fluffier grains, like little yellow bubbles, which are absolutely the happiest things I ever see at the crack of dawn. The recipe tastes the same no matter which device you use to cook it, so pick whichever one you think is easier to clean.

I like to enhance millet’s natural sweetness with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of coconut flakes. Sweet-tart ruby red pomegranate seeds brighten the bowl and the flavor. Apples and cinnamon, dates and cardamom, dried apricots and almonds also make excellent toppers.

Once you’ve mastered millet-making, consider starting your slow cooker in the morning so that you can serve a side of savory garlic-parsley millet, instead of mashed potatoes, with dinner. Using vegetable or chicken broth instead of nondairy milk will infuse your millet with flavor before you add extra aromatics.

Between the breakfasts and side dishes, it’s safe to say that millet has become the darling carbohydrate in our healthy eating household. Not only do I love millet’s sweet, versatile taste, but cooking millet also feels like participating in an ancient, global tradition. Just like raising teenagers.

Slow Cooker Breakfast Millet

2 cups whole-grain millet, rinsed

4 cups unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup shredded coconut flakes

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Combine millet, coconut milk, water and salt in a 3-quart slow cooker*. Cook on low for 8 hours. Divide between bowls and top with honey, coconut flakes and pomegranate seeds. Serve hot. Serves: 6

*A programmable rice cooker may also be used; the millet will cook in approximately one hour.

Per serving: 325 calories (percent of calories from fat, 18), 8 grams protein, 58 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 6 grams fat (4 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 131 milligrams sodium.


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