When we moved a few weekends ago, I found a bag of millet that I’d forgotten about, wedged into a corner of my three-drawer pantry-on-wheels.
Millet is a nutty, whole-grain that’s produced mainly in Asia. I bought some last year at the Korean grocery store, not knowing exactly what I’d do with it. Fast forward 10 months later (cannot believe my Korean grocery store trip was already almost a year ago), and I’d done exactly nothing with it. Except stumble upon it and toss it into a moving box.
At our new apartment, living amid all the cardboard and dust was making me crave something homemade and comforting. A risotto. Mind you, I’ve never made risotto before. But how hard could it be? (Heh heh.) I consulted the Internet, and it confirmed — there were several recipes for millet risotto out there. Although the American blogosphere millet looked different than mine. Theirs was yellow; mine was white with brown speckles. (Perhaps mine was one of the “minor millets” mentioned in this Wikipedia article.)
Years ago, I made big pot of buttery polenta with leeks, and it was so fantastic that I knew I had to have leeks in my millet risotto. Found a leek at my local mercado, and also decided to throw in a few veggies that were ripening in the fridge: chilacayote and a serrano pepper. Chilacayote is a round, mildly sweet squash that’s native to Latin America. They look kind of like mini watermelons, with a thin skin instead of a rind.
I didn’t have any Parmesan (the go-to cheese topper for a risotto), but I did have gruyere. And although I didn’t have white wine, I did have Chinese cooking wine.
Exhilirated and flying by the seat of my pants, I whipped up my risotto over the course of an hour. It turned out great: nutty and full of texture (just slightly harder than your usual rice), with this intoxicating, light boozy smell, and of course, covered in cheese. I sat and watched our newly installed cable and was perfectly happy with life, even if my life at the moment happened to be cardboard-filled and dust-covered.
Millet risotto with leeks, chilacayote and melted gruyere
Inspired by the The Kitchn’s Leek and Mushroom risotto
Serves 6 to 8
Note: This is a hearty dish — twice I served myself portions that I wasn’t able to finish. (This stuff sticks to your ribs!) Next time I’d probably add the serrano toward the end of the cooking time, because flavor kind of faded away as it cooked. Also, I garnished with cilantro because that’s what I always do, but in this case it actually worked and gave it a nice herbal taste before your body just kind of melted into the dish…
Traditionally you’re not supposed to wash risotto rice, because it removes the gluten and makes it not stick together. Since millet is gluten-free, I think you can rinse it and you’ll be fine. Mine definitely needed to be rinsed.
1 1-lb. bag of millet
1 large leek, chopped (white and pale green parts only)
1 to 2 chilacayotes, grated, or about 1 cup’s worth*
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced (leave the seeds in if you want it hotter)
2 good glugs olive oil
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1/4 c. Chinese cooking wine, or white wine or sherry
Cilantro for garnish
Salt to taste
Heat your olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add your leek, onion and serrano pepper, and cook until softened. Add your grated chilacayote, and salt to taste. Cook for a few minutes and then add the millet. Stir to combine. Add maybe a cup of your chicken broth, and bring the mixture to a slow boil. (I had this on my lowest flame setting.) As the millet absorbs the liquid, slowly add more, about 1/2 cup at a time or so. This is important: You don’t need to be standing there stirring the whole time. (Am I the only one who previously believed this risotto myth?) Stir often just to make sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Save the alcohol as the last thing you pour in, and cook until the millet is at the desired texture. This took about one hour at the Mexico City altitude; probably half that if you’re cooking at sea level. Top with shredded gruyere and cilantro leaves.
*UPDATE: As you’ll see in the comments below, when I originally posted this recipe, I forgot to include the chilacayote. The amount here is an estimate — I do recall it was around one cup grated. Since this is intended to be a comforting dish, you don’t necessarily need an exact measurement anyway.