Nature ,in its generosity, must have said: “Let a thousand seeds grow on the humble stalk”, as far as millets are concerned.

These Forgotten Foods, which Navdanya has ceaselessly worked at bringing back to the food basket for the past 25 years, are indeed superstars of our agriculture. Though they need very little pampering, being water prudent and growing in the hardiest terrain, they yield the maximum nutrition per acre. That is why we would like to start this column with barnyard millet, variously known as Jhangora in the Garhwal Hills, sawak/shyama ka chawal in Hindi and kuthiravaali or kudirai valu in Tamil.

Grown mainly in Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, both as fodder and for human consumption, the barnyard millet has an amazing nutrition profile.

According to the Nutritive Value of Indian Foods, published by the National Institute Of Nutrition, every 100 gm of barnyard millet contain 11.9 gm of moisture, 6.2 gm of protein, 2.2 gm of fat, 4.4 gm of minerals (one of the highest value among grains), 9.8 gm of crude fibre, 65.5gm of carbohydrates, 20 mg of calcium, 5 mg of iron and a high level of phosphorus at 280 mg.

The roles of minerals and phosphorus are extremely important for the body; minerals are part of the body structural component while also acting as a catalyst in many body reactions. As far as phosphorus is concerned, it is an important element of our bodily requirement since it combines with calcium as calcium phosphate to be available to bones and teeth. It also plays an important role in cellular metabolism. So, if we look at the nutritional inputs of this local super food, we notice that it can provide us not only a high fibre food but also the subtler elements of our dietary requirements.

As far as its appearance is concerned, the de-husked grains are light brown in colour, with each grain being somewhat oval in shape, in fact very similar to its now glamorous cousin quinoa.

In the North of India, it has been used, since time immemorial, during the fasting period of Navratras, as not only is it high on energy but it is also light on the stomach, both eminently desirable properties during long fasting periods.

In the Garhwal Hills, where women have to toil hard at farming on the step-cultivation system and therefore need a sustaining diet, they have evolved many mouth-watering dishes with Jhangora; apart from the festive kheer, there is also a kadhi called Jhangora ka chencheda.

In fact barnyard millet is a very versatile ingredient which lends itself to innumerable preparations. It is both rice-like, as its name sawak ka chawal indicates and semolina-like once cooked. It makes for wonderful pilafs, that can be seasoned as per everyone’s desiderata, from Mediterranean herbs to South Indian spices.

In Navdanya’s kitchen, we evolved the Jhangora upma which is a hot favourite at the Dilli Haat café; while working on the Little Chef’s program, an initiative which seeks to reconnect school-goers to their food chain, from the seed to the table, we have come up with all manner of tabbouleh made from barnyard millet. From fruity ones to tempt young palates to more sophisticated ones for the gastronomes, we can produce a tabbouleh for all occasions.

This high on performance millet is, to top it all, not very difficult to handle. To get the best flavour out of it, all you need to do is first dry roast it so that it gets a nutty taste, then put it in a strainer and wash it; after this step, you can plunge it in boiling water and let it sit there till it is cooked. This process can take up to 20 minutes, sometimes even less; it is therefore desirable initially to check out from time to time if it has acquired the texture you desire. Once cooked, it should be drained and fluffed up with the help of a fork. Your millet will then be ready to absorb all the aromas you want to infuse into it either by stir frying or by just adding the seasoning directly.

The process of making a kheer or a phirni is of course different, as you will see from the recipes given below.

In times of climate change, when we need climate resilience our Forgotten Foods can become foods of the future, given their adaptable ecological behaviour. As we become eco-citizens, our food choices can help reduce our carbon footprints, by choosing to eat locally grown ingredients and in the case of millets, it can also be our small resistance to GM foods.

i) Jhangora Upma

Ingredients

½ cup jhangora / barnyard millet / samak

1 chopped onion

1 chopped green chilli

¼ cup boiled green peas

¼ cup carrots

1 lemon

1 tbsp oil salt to taste

2 tbsp chopped coriander

Method

Clean jhangora thoroughly.

Blanch it in 2 cups of hot water for 4 minutes.

Drain and keep aside.

Heat the oil in a pan.

Add the onion and green chilli and sauté till the onion turns translucent.

Add the peas, carrots, jhangora and salt and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add 1 ½ cups of water and cook.

Add lemon juice and garnish with the coriander

Serve hot.

ii) Jhangora Taboule

Ingredients

½ cup jhangora / barnyard millet / samak

½ cup onion chopped

½ cup tomatoes chopped

½ cup cucumber chopped

½ cup capsicum chopped

8 to 10 mint leaves

1 small bunch coriander leaves a pinch black pepper powder

¼ cup raisins

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice salt to taste

Navdanya www.navdanya.org

Method

Clean the jhangora thoroughly and blanch it in two cups of hot water for four minutes. Drain and keep aside.

Finely chop all the vegetables

Tear the mint leaves into small pieces

Mix all the ingredients and garnish with coriander and lemon juice.

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