What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say millets?
Until not very long ago, I could think of only ragi mudde, bajra khichdi, and makai roti. That changed about a month ago when I attended the #tastingindiasymposium in December. The symposium focused on matters like sustainability of crops, welfare of the farmer, outreach of the programs, and food wastage — or how to prevent it. The possibility of India becoming a center for Gastronomic tourism, in a way that we can showcase our native foods, cooking techniques, grains, and diverse cuisine to the world.
But is it possible? Can India, with it not so internationally inclined recipes, not so photogenic foods, and complicated methods appeal to the west?
While the question had many an esteemed speakers vehemently debating the point, it was the lunch served by Meenu Nageshwaran on day one and Chef Vioul of Annamaya, Andaz Delhi on day 2. It completely turned around my perception of millets as only health food.
Last evening, at Soda Bottle Opener Wala, Cyber Hub, chef Anahita and her team took the experience to another level. Using the native grain, infamous for its lack of elasticity, sweetness, and satiation attributed to wheat and rice, they created an entire meal. Needless to say that the food was delicious, but most importantly, it broke the barriers of what millets can do.
The evening started with a ensemble list of food lovers, writers, chefs getting together at the restaurant for sampling Chef Anahita’s menu, an extension of the symposium. And thus began a long, fun evening of food made with love and served with pride.
Plates of millet salad made with Foxtail millets, Desi tomatoes, Microgreens and jaggery tamarind dressing. As these tiny platters moved around the table, with its contents lapped up by one and all, we knew it’s going to a memorable evening.
The millets were plump and soft, more like couscous and quinoa, without being bland and tasteless. Tomatoes gleamed like little rubies, carrots like corals. The salad was fresh, refreshing and the perfect palate cleanser for the hot fiery deliciousness that followed.
Kanda Bhajia made with Millet Mix, served with garlic and tomato chutney, came next. Crisp dics of flavourful onions, millet flour, and beautiful seasoning were fried to perfection. The chutney was not too spicy, complementing the kick of the fresh red and green chili the fresh just received from the farm. That the bhaiyas vanished from the plate every time they were sent by the chef and we were left asking for more — and more.
Next came the Kera na Cutlet made with raw banana and Banyard millet. Tiny patties of smooth bananas fried so well that it is neither oily, nor heavy. Soft inside, crisp outside, it was neither too spicy, nor too mild.
What needs a special mention is the chicken kebab with Bhut Jolakia. Small potent balls of chicken with bhut jolakia mayo. These balls with world’s hottest chilli and chicken hit you a little late but would leave you gasping for breath. That we were sweating in 10 degrees is proof enough of the heat of the chilli. Thankfully the mayo was milder.
Next came the main course.
Chicken Mahaiwala, served with millets parathas, millets pav, a creamy rendition, very similar to chicken a la king. The chicken along with the millets is a meal in itself. The pav, I ate on its own, dipped in the mayo, the texture perfect to go with a raspberry drink.
The Berry Pulav, rich, and sinful as always, with chunks of mutton, brown gravy, golden onions, and tart berries, was satisfying, hard to believe that there was no rice in the preparation.
The final course, made up of millets Ravo, millets apple crumble, and ice cream and custard was my favourite though. The only problem: I was too full to enjoy it.
The ravo was fragrant and beautiful, with little millets replacing the traditional suji.
The apple crumble with millets daliya and fresh seasonal fruit was a treat to all the senses. Good to look at, aromatic, with contrasting textures and beautiful to taste.
By the end of it, not only were we floored by chef’s culinary skills, but also convinced that millets can, and do, replace regular grains.
Note: #sodabottleopenerwala in cyber hub regularly does farmers markets and food tasting with millets. Do drop in and see for yourself how versatile the millets are.
Also read up about the Tasting India Manifesto, an attempt to bring about a change in the way we cook and eat.