Healthy Cooking: Make a less stressful sweet and savory Thanksgiving side dish

Healthy, easy and oh-so-tasty, a millet side dish accommodates many dietary requests. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES
Healthy, easy and oh-so-tasty, a millet side dish accommodates many dietary requests. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES

This year, the household with the youngest child is hosting Thanksgiving for our sprawling family. That’s because it’s easier for 20 of us to fly across the country on the busiest travel weekend of the year than for the two of them to fly with one baby and 20 bags of baby stuff.

We’re supposed to come prepared to cook something, anything, for the festive meal, which sounded fun and quirky until I realized that, without a proper plan, the kitchen will be overflowing with cooks. Since throwing elbows over oven space can only have negative consequences, I’m bringing a pint-sized bag of millet in my carry-on. (You, however, can find it in the bulk-food aisle of major supermarkets.)

Millet is technically a seed, but it cooks up like a grain. It tastes slightly sweet and nutty, like roasted corn. And, on a day when we tend to overindulge, millet is a healthy, low-fat source of plant-based protein, calcium and fiber. But the best thing about millet is that you can make it in a slow cooker, rice cooker, even on the stovetop.

I’m choosing the slow cooker, which will allow me to start in the morning when the kitchen is relatively serene. Slow-cooker millet cooks up soft and chunky-creamy, like rustic mashed potatoes. But if you find yourself without eight hours to slow cook, the rice cooker is a wonderful option. Your millet will emerge in about 45 minutes with the light, fluffy texture of couscous. Able to commandeer a stovetop burner? You can boil millet in about 20 minutes, yielding the same buttery flavor in tender grains that resemble rice.

You can serve millet plain, like the aforementioned rice. But if you can finagle five minutes at the stove, saute shallots and garlic, and wilt a few handfuls of spinach. Stir them into the millet and add a flourish of dried cranberries. You’ll have a delicious, unexpected side dish that tastes like Thanksgiving.

Accommodating everyone’s dietary needs can be a challenge for holiday meals. As written, this recipe is vegan. If everyone at the table enjoys meat, feel free to substitute chicken or turkey broth. You will also notice an absence of added salt, which allows anyone on a heart-healthy diet to enjoy it. And millet is naturally gluten-free, which makes it ideal for people with wheat sensitivities.

Once you master your favorite millet-making technique, make it again for breakfast the next day. Use milk (or a dairy-free substitute) for the liquid and sweeten it with honey and fresh fruit. When you’re cooking for and with a crowd, it’s nice to have something that accommodates everyone. Including the kitchen.

Creamy Sweet & Savory Millet

2 cups uncooked millet
4 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon water, divided
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 whole shallot bulbs, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon minced garlic
8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
2 ounces dried cranberries

Place the millet, vegetable broth and 2 cups water in the bowl of a large slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours. (See notes below for preparing millet in a rice cooker or on the stovetop.)

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, stirring occasionally to break up the rings, for 4 minutes, until the shallots start to brown at the edges. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds longer. Scrape the shallots and garlic into a bowl and return the skillet to medium heat. Add the spinach and 1 tablespoon water and cook, stirring constantly, until the spinach wilts, about 30 seconds.

Fluff the millet with a fork. Fold in the shallot mixture and spinach. Sprinkle with dried cranberries. Serve hot. Serves 6-8.

Per serving, based on 6: 289 calories (percent of calories from fat, 12), 9 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 127 milligrams sodium.

Rice cooker directions: Place 2 cups millet, 3 cups broth and 1 cup water in a rice cooker. Cook until the cooker signals it is finished, approximately 45 minutes.

Stovetop directions: Toast 2 cups millet in a dry stockpot over medium heat for 4 minutes. Carefully add 4 cups broth and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Stir well, place the lid on the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and let it rest with the lid on, for an additional 10 minutes.


ExploreMore Healthy Cooking recipes
ExploreKitchen Curious recipes 
ExploreRead the AJC Fall Dining Guide: The Noodle Edition

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.