When following a gluten-free diet, breakfast can be difficult, dissatisfying, and expensive. For many years, I've been appeasing a formidable appetite with a simple millet-based breakfast that I have developed over time. I find it sustains me for three to four hours. With a little help and interest provided by additional ingredients, this recipe provides a breakfast that I don't exactly jump out of bed for in the morning, but don't dread either. It is tasty enough, healthy, filling, and affordable.
Millet is not only gluten-free, but is also a superior grain. It is high in protein and minerals such as calcium and iron, and is one of only a couple of grain species that are alkali-forming. This means that when you've digested it, the breakdown products will yield a net alkaline contribution to your body, like most vegetables and fruit, and unlike dairy products, meat, and most grains. Some people say that this acid/alkali balance affects your digestive processes, your bone density, and other aspects of your health. Millet is reportedly beneficial for joints and connective tissue as well.
On the downside, millet is technically a relatively high 'glycemic index' food. Nevertheless, I have always found this particular recipe to be a decent long-distance sustainer, although if I postpone lunch for too log I do eventually notice a mild energy slump. Perhaps my inclusion of almonds (whole or via LSA) helps in this respect, because they are known to improve the GI of other foods. Diabetics might want to tread carefully, though.
According to Wikipedia, '...millets are also a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor and probably should not be consumed in great quantities by those with thyroid disease.' I'm not sure if this breakfast alone would constitute 'great quantities' in your daily diet, but probably not. It would presumably be slightly unhelpful for hypothyroidism but would tend to assist hyperthyroid states.
- A coffee/spice grinder, or an ordinary kitchen blender
- A microwave oven
- Hulled or unhulled millet
- Desiccated coconut
- Milk, soy milk, rice milk, or fruit juice
- Dried fruit (optional)
- Sunflower, poppy, or other seeds, or whole nuts (optional)
- Stewed apple, fresh or frozen berries, or canned fruit (optional)
- LSA or ground flax meal (optional)
You might be able to source unprocessed millet from your local health food store. Millet is usually sold hulled, and is typically the 'White French' variety. I have tried other varieties of millet, and they also work, but vary in taste considerably from the delicious, sweet, neutral flavour of white millet. I have also tried unhulled French White millet, and it works very well too, adding lots of fibre and producing a more wholemeal kind of effect—still very palatable. If I could find unhulled millet in bulk these days, I'd add a proportion of it to the hulled grain.
Contamination with glutinous grains should not be a problem, because millet is typically grown in different areas to wheat, etc. I did have a problem with one particular bag of tiny pearl millet that I bought. Its seeds were so small that a suitable sieve would easily have removed the few grains of wheat it contained, but I didn't like the taste of it all that much anyway. Maybe I was sold a bag of bird seed unwittingly!
I have never had a problem with weevils or other vermin in millet. So I buy in bulk from a grain wholesaler when possible.
Grinding the millet
The hard millet seeds are traditionally roasted before being boiled, but I forego any roasting and grind a single serving into a coarse, uneven flour using a coffee and spice grinder. In the past, I have also used an ordinary kitchen blender to do larger batches all at once.
Using a coffee and spice grinder
The coffee grinder method is easiest, and has the advantage of producing freshly ground product every day. I dump about 1/2 a cup of millet into the grinder and let it rip for long enough to make a coarse flour that has an average consistency of fine polenta, but whose particle size varies from light powder to large granules.
Using a blender
This was my old method before discovering the convenience of a spice grinder. It takes a bit of practice. I added 1 & 2/3 (~1.6) cups of millet into the jug at a go. For my particular model of blender, this was just the right amount to strike a balance between downward grinding pressure and freedom for the seeds to circulate. You will have to experiment with your blender to get the right volume. You are aiming to have the grain circulate sluggishly like a thick fluid, with a nice vortex feeding down to the spinning blades. You will see the line of freshly ground particles slowly rise up the side of the blender as the blades do their work, displacing the whole seeds above. I find that the speed of the blades is important too. Slower is better, and I turn the blender off and on again a few times, even shaking the blender as it's working to improve the circulation. This might sound tricky, but it's quite easy once you get the hang of it.
[I wore out the blade bearings in our blender, following years of abuse. The replacement blender from our local Aldi supermarket had a jug with a wider base and a sunken section where the blades sit. This blender didn't circulate the millet nearly as well. So blenders with jugs and bottoms of the right proportions do seem to count for something.]
In any case, too small a load in the blender will have the millet spinning too fast and flinging around instead of being broken up by the blades. Too great a load will bog down the circulation. But don't be worried about a few remaining unbroken grains—you won't notice them in the finished product. Just as for the coffee grinder method, you should end up with a coarse flour that has an average consistency of fine polenta, but whose particle size varies from light powder to large granules.
I repeat the above procedure to make enough for a couple of weeks’ supply and store it.
Using a grain grinder
Speaking from no experience whatsoever, I assume a specialised grain grinder would do a great job, but should be set for a coarser grind. You don't want true flour, but more of a 'meal'.
Cooking the millet
We fed our toddler a millet porridge for breakfast before he decided he preferred oats, and he loved it in his blissful ignorance of packaged cereal. We whizzed up half cup of millet at a go in the coffee grinder and saved half the ground meal for the next day.
To a small microwave-safe bowl add:
- 1/4 cup of ground millet (well, it's slightly more because the grain fluffs up when ground)
- Roughly 1 cup of water
- 1 or 2 teaspoons of desiccated coconut
- Dried fruit if desired (sultanas, raisins, currants, and cranberries all good. Banana?)
- Add a pinch of salt if you want, though this is not necessary
Cook for about four minutes in an old gutless microwave like ours, or for the same time at 3/4 power in a new one. Don't cook it too fast with too much power. When done, mash up any hard cakey layer with a fork to homogenise the porridge and spread to cool quickly if the world is surely ending for lack of food.
Results will depend upon how finely ground the millet is, which determines its absorbency.
The following recipe makes a solid, cake-like product that I eat every day with rice milk.
Into your breakfast bowl, add:
- 1/2 to 2/3 of a cup of ground millet
- Just under the same volume of water
- 1 heaped tablespoon of desiccated coconut
- 1 tablespoon or more of dried or frozen fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants, cranberries, blueberries are all good)
- A pinch of salt helps, but is not necessary.
Stir until the millet and other ingredients form a slurry.
Microwave uncovered for five to six minutes or so. Our old 600-watt machine requires full power. I've found that newer, more powerful units need to be set at about 3/4 power. The cooking rate is important. Too little cooking will leave a wet scum on top that isn't very appetising. Too much will dry everything into a hard lump, possibly overcooked in the middle. The shape of the bowl might also affect the way that the microwave heat is distributed, so try varying it if necessary. I use a deep noodle bowl from an Asian grocery.
When nuked correctly, this recipe does not produce a porridge. Instead, the millet will emerge like a layer of crusted cake, with a dryish, cracked surface. It will give off enticing vanillin and coconut fragrances as it cooks. I've found the coconut to be critical in making this dish appetising over the long term—partly because it rises to the surface and improves the 'crust'—but I have survived begrudgingly without it during some dark times.
The above quantity might be slightly too much for people with lesser appetites. Half a cup of unground millet is about right for me these days. Manual labourers might make use of 3/4 of a cup or even more. If in doubt, always make too much...
The proof is in the eating
I sprinkle the top of the millet with sunflower seeds or poppy seeds to add interest and nutrition. In the past I have also sprinkled it with my home-made LSA. These days I just use straight flax meal that I grind myself (also in the spice grinder). I used to add a couple of dollops of home-made stewed apple, but now it's more often part of a banana, sliced. Stewed quinces are fabulous. Canned fruit of various kinds work well too.
Because this recipe produces more of a cake than a porridge, you'll need to add a little liquid as you eat it, more so if you omit the fruit. I currently find rice milk works well, but for many years I was accustomed to apple-blackcurrant juice in place of milk, and even pineapple juice early on. This migration away from milk required a lot of getting used to. Most people would find juice in their breakfast bowl to be disgusting at first and should give the millet a chance to charm them by sticking with some kind of milk.
Whether you add milk or juice, you might wish to do so gradually as you eat, in small installments. If you dump the liquid onto the millet in one go (cereal-style) the millet will tend to absorb the liquid like a sponge, and you can end up with something sloppy and less appealing. I've noticed that absorbency is greater for coarsely-ground millet from my new blender's coffee-grinder attachment, because it lacks the fine flour that would normally gum everything up. Another variable!
How does it rate?
Breakfast and morning routines set the tone for the rest of the day, on many levels. This recipe makes for a healthy start. As a concept, it might seem strange at first, because it's not quite the crunchy cereal you are familiar with, nor the creamy porridge / oatmeal / polenta style of dish you might imagine it to be (you can try the added water variant if you're game—I never have). But it's not too bad at all once you get used to it, if I do say so.
As I mentioned earlier, the coconut helps disproportionately, and I find the fruit very useful in balancing out the dryness of the other ingredients. I really miss the stewed apple whenever I run out. The grain itself has far more flavour than polenta. White millet is simply delicious—golden, tasty little beads of joy. Prepared like this, millet is substantial and filling, unlike a lot of packaged cereals. It will fuel a morning of hard work if need be.
For variety's sake, you can add different fruits, seeds, or chopped nuts on different days, and even try a half teaspoon of powdered cinnamon to the mix. I have also, at various times, substituted small proportions of polenta, beaten rice (poha), sorghum flour, dark millet flour, and other oddities for some of the millet, but none of these have improved the texture or flavour. Green or pearl millet, for example, can taste pretty disgusting and sorghum doesn't grind or cook as readily.
- Obtain a good quantity of apples (some varieties stew down better than others, but all will work).
- Peel, core, grub, and dice the apples.
- Add powdered cinnamon / cinnamon sticks and whole cloves to taste.
- Optionally, but especially with sour apples, add sugar or juice of some kind.
- Tip everything into a large pot with a dash of water in the bottom to prevent initial burning.
- Bring to the boil and simmer on low heat until the volume has greatly reduced (smells great).
- If apples are still too chunky, partially mash them with a potato masher.
- When cooled, divide into small containers and freeze.
- Transfer a frozen container to fridge a day ahead of time, and it will be ready for the next breakfast (small containers kept in the fridge should last long enough to finish before succumbing to mould).
I stress that I am an amateur in matters of nutrition, not an expert. Please consult a qualified health professional before making any unusual or critical dietary decisions.