Friday, May 29, 2015

recipe of millet pongal live from the millet workshop | millets are for everyone, use them everyday

Millets are tasty grains. Trust me when I say this. The only reason why you might have had a lukewarm experience with millets is that our cooking procedures have tuned in so much with rice and wheat that we have forgotten how to cook millets well.

And no, there is nothing elaborate about cooking millets, it is actually simpler. We often make the recipes so complicated and overburden the ingredients with seasonings that the dish gets killed. Millets need simpler treatment, simpler seasoning and fewer accompaniments in my experience.

I am sharing the recipe of a very simple millet pongal made with Foxtail millet (kangni) and Mung daal (skinned yellow mung). Pongal is a savoury porridge that is a popular breakfast dish in the south but rarely made with millets. Pongal is also a popular temple prasad and I have had the best pongals of my life as prasad (offerings made to God and then distributed to everyone).

I made this pongal for the participants of the workshop I conducted at Our Sacred Space in Hyderabad, with a theme 'Millets for everyone, for everyday'. The objective was to introduce the participants about how and why millets are better than wheat and rice for our own health as well as for the health of the planet and agriculture practices. The bunch of participants was a joy to interact with.

I wanted something tangible for the participants at the end of the workshop so they could get a taste of what we talk about. I had made some multi grain panjeeri, some ragi crackers, Jau ki ghaat and jowar banana pankeas and a millet pongal was planned as live cooking. While I was confident about everything else, I felt really nervous about the pongal as this was one dish that I have not grown up eating and cooking it for people from Andhra was like a vegetarian talking about fish to a Bengali. Yes I was nervous for the pongal.

This is a phone picture of the cooked pongal to which I added tadka in a huge pot. The pongal was made for 40-50 people.

It was a pleasant surprise to know that everyone loved this pongal and took second and third helpings. The second thing everyone one loved was Jau ki ghaat because it was the right season for such a drink, although panjeeri, pancakes and crackers were all favourites. Panjeeri made an instant fan following there with people asking for more, saving some for themselves too.

Pongal made me happy for obvious reasons.

The feedback I got for this millet pongal was that they couldn't believe it could taste better than rice pongal. I was exhausted by the end of the workshop that lasted 4 hours but I did taste the pongal so I can recreate the same in my own kitchen later. But honestly speaking, when pongal is made in larger quantities the taste is better for some reason. You might be familiar with the belief that prasad pongal always tastes better.

Recipe of millet pongal (the way I cooked for the millet workshop) 

(40-50 servings with other side dishes)

Foxtail millet (Kangni) 1 kilo
split Mung daal 1 kilo
water 7 Liters
chopped green chillies 1 cup
chopped curry patta 1/2 cup
salt 1/4 cup, add more after checking the salt balance once the pongal is cooked
ghee 250 gm
asafoetida powder 1/2 tsp
cumin seeds 2 tbsp
whole red chillies broken 10-12
whole pepper corns 1 tbsp
cashew nuts 250 gm chopped


Rinse the mung daal, drain and tip in to the cooking vessel. I used a large (12 Liter capacity) pot for cooking this pongal. Add the water and the salt and place it on stove. Let the mixture come to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Rinse the millet, drain water and tip in to the cooking pot. Let it come to a boil again and simmer for 30 minutes. You might need a little more water if the consistency is too thick. Add the chopped green chillies and 1/3rd of the ghee, mix well and let it simmer for a few more minutes.

Now heat the ghee in a pan, add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, red chillies, pepper corns, curry patta and cashew nuts in that order and let them all get sizzling. Let the cashews get a bit brownish, the curry patta will also be fried nicely by this time. Add this whole mixture to the cooked pongal, mix well and keep the pongal covered. Serve while the pongal is still hot. This huge pot of pongal was hot for a couple of hours.

Here is a picture collage of iphone pictures my friend Bhavana clicked. There were a few organic farmers at the workshop and some people who wanted to know more about millets and their uses.

This workshop was organised and held at Our Sacred Space, brainchild of Nayantara Nandakumar who works tirelessly behind this beautiful space and its working. She has transformed her huge garden into a retreat, a mindfully done oasis of peace. Outdoors surrounded with beautiful plants, walls finished with mud and red oxide flooring gives this space a feel of an old village chaupal. Finding such a peaceful oasis in the heart of a crowded city Secuderabad feels like a bliss.

Our sacred space holds farmer's markets to support local produce, flee markets for local craftsmen and workshops for children and adults on many different themes. The Sunday Farmer's market that I witness was so good I am dreaming if we could have something like that in Delhi.

Later, back home I cooked the same pongal in pressure cooker. Since I was going to pressure cook the pongal in one step I decided to break the mung daal in smaller bits by running it into the mixie for a few seconds. The foxtail and mung mix was added to water (4 times the millet-lentil mix) and was pressure cooked with salt. Then a tempering was added and it made a really good lunch that day. I had chilled buttermilk with this meal.

It has been just too hot in Delhi these days and we have lost our appetite for heavier foods. Watermelon, buttermilk, chilled mango slices, chilled milk etc is what I am having mostly but I do eat a few spicy meals in between too. This pongal made me so happy with it's spice quotient and still felt very light on the system.

If you are using Pearl millet (bajra) or Barnyard millet (sama) for pongal you might like to cook them along with the mung daal as those take a bit longer time to cook. Just adjusting the cooking time and consistency you should be able to cook a delicious pongal with just any kind of millets you choose.

I was so glad to see so many varieties of millets available in Hyderabad, specially Our Sacred Space Sunday market was treasure trove for organic food seekers. The variety of millet rawa (millet semolina), millet vermicelli, broken millets etc is so good you would want to find out more ways to cook with them.

I buy my millets from Navdanya store, Down to Earth website and I Say Organic whenever possible. I also collect millets and lentils from my travels to interiors of the country. This foxtail millet from I Say Organic is from Uttarakhand.

Do let me know whenever you have a query about millets. I will be glad to share whatever I know.

Millets are ancient grains that need to be brought back to mainstream, not only for our own health but to break the pattern of monoculture of wheat and rice that is cause much harm to the agriculture and food chain both.

Did you know millets are hardy crops that can grow well in arid regions and don't need much chemical fertilizers or pesticides because they are naturally disease resistant. Also because millets have not been aggressively bred for huge yield etc. most millets are native varieties. Millets can be grown organically well and most millets you get in the market are grown by organic means.

Bring back millets on your dining table, every day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

panjeeri is a desi granola mix ; a recipe of mixed millet panjeeri and a millet workshop in Hyderabad

Panjeeri brings back memories of my grandmother who used to make panjeeri with almost every grain. She used to make panjeeri even with rice flour as one of the ingredients and would sometimes bind the mix into laddu for the ease of handling and serving. Panjeeri is a roasted mix of flours, chopped nuts, powdered fox nuts and raisins, the ingredients are roasted separately and slowly along with ghee and are mixed with raw sugar or jaggery powder to make a delicious mix that is considered great for breakfast or for day time snacking.

My grandmother used to have panjeeri with warm milk too, just like one has cereal. Many old people like to add panjeeri to milk as they find it easy to gulp down that way. Panjeeri mixed with mashed banana and some milk makes good baby food too, but for that purpose panjeeri is made without ghee and nuts. How versatile a recipe can be.

The panjeeri mix includes dry ginger, turmeric, edible gum etc if it is made for winters and is made without these for summer days. But panjeeri is not an everyday summer food traditionally, it was made when one had to stock some ready to eat options at home or for traveling.

I remember panjeeri used to be our travel food each summer vacation. My mother still makes it almost all through the year using different ingredients suited for seasons, she makes a sugar free (not with sugar substitutes) version with few raisins and chopped dates for my dad too who is a diabetic. Like all diabetics my dad loves sweets and feels deprived if he doesn't get such things.

This time I made this panjeeri with mixed millets flour. There is some pearl millet, some sorghum, some amaranth flour, some corn meal, some barley flour, some oats flour, little wheat flour, some bran and some whole chickpea flour (with skin) in this mix. One can always mix the flours according to taste and preference and make the panjeeri using any of these flours alone, but mixing the flours works great for a complex flavour.

The panjeeri was actually made in large amount this time. I am doing a workshop on health benefits of millets and their everyday uses and wanted the participants get a taste of what they learn that day. I am so looking forward to the workshop.

The recipe is simple, but takes some time to prepare the ingredients and slow roast them separately. I did it myself in three days as I was busy with work too. Once the panjeeri is ready you feel like tasting it every half an hour. No I couldn't do that this time as I was suffering from a bout of food poisoning and was on a strict diet of yogurt and khichdi, my breakfast was plain yogurt mixed with isabgul husk. Life is not always fair but I will make up for it :-)

(makes about 80-100 servings)

mixed millet flour 1 kilo (I used a mix of sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), barley (jau), corn (makii), oats (jaee), amatranth (ramdana or rajgira), whole wheat, whole black chickpea (kala chana) and little bran. All flours are added in equal amount.
fox nuts (makhana)100 gm (powdered)
flax seeds meal 200 gm
chopped almonds 500 gm (use mixed nuts if desired)
raisins 150 gm
jaggery powder or raw sugar 700 gm (or to taste) I used organic shakkar which is powdered jaggery
ghee 600 gm

*skip using wheat if you are allergic to it. I get this flour mix for my rotis and used the same for making panjeeri, skipping wheat makes no difference in taste. Gluten free version of panjeeri is as good.

** skip sugar or jaggery for diabetics. Ad some stewia powder or just some chopped dates too and serve in small portions to diabetics.


Heat 50 gm ghee in a pan ( I used a thick base kadhai) and roast the fox nut powder lightly. Keep aside.

Heat a little more ghee and fry the chopped almonds lightly on low flame, add the raisins in the last couple of minutes, fry together and take out from the kadhai. Keep aside.

Heat the remaining ghee and tip in the mixed millet flour and the flax seeds meal. Roast the flour mix at very low flame for an hour or so or till it becomes a bit brown and gets aromatic too. Take off the stove, add the raw sugar or jaggery powder, the roasted fox nut nut powder and almonds and raisins too and mix well.

Let the mixture cool down completely and then store it in air tight jars for about a month. I fill the pajeeri in many small jars so one of them in on the dining table too. This time the lot has already been packed to take it to Hyderabad :-)

A 25-30 gm serving of this multigrain panjeeri is very filling with a glass of milk. Some people even eat 50 gm or more but it is one of the healthier low glycemic foods that keep you full for hours. The next meal is automatically portion controlled if you have had this panjeeri in a large serving.

I always call it desi granola mix as it has everything a granola has and is made with local ingredients. And it can also be modified to suit seasons.

I make a methi panjeeri a lot for myself and the recipe is still to be shared, will share that too very soon. Another version of panjeeri with herbs and nuts is made for new mothers too which is a ritual in most Indian homes.

Are you based in Hyderabad? Come for this workshop if so and enjoy some millet panjeeri with me. There will be some more food to sample and I am sure you all would enjoy being there, we will definitely learn some interesting things that day.

Looking forward to talk about millets, their health benefits and how millets are crucial for the health of our planet as well. Come join me there.

I will be sharing the updates and may be videos of the workshop too with all of you here. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

101 gluten free breakfasts | sorghum banana pancakes with pomegranate rhododendron jelly

Someone asked me why I work around millets so much. What is the goal I am working towards when I promote millets, traditional recipes that are getting lost and age old nutrition wisdom. I was thinking of the age old wisdom that is being taken over by consumerism and 'tactful' nutrition information fine printed on shiny food packets.

I asked him what did he have for breakfast and he told me about a crisp toast with French butter and some fruit preserve. I told that I made a gluten free sorghum flour and banana pancake and had it with pomegranate rhododendron jelly. Jowar kele ka cheela, as we would call it and he wanted to know more about the pancake and how millets can make such tasty foods. The interest was ignited immediately.

I had never expected this kind of question as all of you my readers and friends have been
reassuring in different ways, and my own quest giving me enough reasons to continue what I love doing. I never follow a goal but do what I like at the moment, taking life as it comes, plans never worked and surprises were always good.

But yes, I do have a reason for reviving old times wisdom and alternative grains, Indian native foods and cooking techniques and most importantly the love for cooking family meals at home. I don't have to explain those reasons for you my friend, because you have subscribed to my blog and have been reading what I think about these.

I would explain my concern about the millets for a reason today. I am an environmentalist by instinct, I feel frustrated to see how the soil health is depleting by monoculture of wheat and rice in different agricultural areas while millets are being neglected. For ages millets were considered food of the poor.

How many of us know that millets take very few resources to grow? These are mostly rain fed crops and do not deplete water resources, do not need pesticides and insecticides much and can be grown organically well.

And there are health benefits that you know already. I know because you are reading healthfood desivideshi and have clicked to read this piece of information. I know you too hate quinoa and use alternative flours for everyday cooking like I do.

(2 servings of filling breakfast)

jowar flour (sorghum flour) 3/4 cup
over ripe banana mashed well 1 or mashed pulp about 1/2 cup
cinnamon powder 1/4 tsp or to taste (optional)
milk 1/3 cup or a bit more
chopped mixed nuts 2 tbsp
flax seeds meal 2 tsp
ghee to shallow fry the pancakes 1-2 tsp per serving ( I used total about a tbsp)
any fruit preserve or honey to serve


Make a batter using the flour, the mashed banana, flax meal, chopped nuts and milk. Add just enough milk to make a thick batter.

Heat a griddle and smear ghee over it. Pour small ladlefuls of batter over the griddle and let it cook for a couple of minutes on one side, over medium flame. Turn over and cook the other side too to get a golden crust.

Serve hot or warm with any fruit preserve or honey you like. This time we had the pomegranate and rhododendron jelly with it. I like the pancake plain with some hot milk, the husband always likes some jam or honey with his pancakes.

The pancake keeps me full till evening if I have it with milk. I normally munch on some salted roasted nuts or peanuts in between because I don't feel good after eating something sweet but that is me.

I must tell you that I have seen some people eating such pancakes with laal mirch ka acahar too and that actually tastes really good. A combination of sweet and spicy is actually good.

Tell me if you want to learn more about millets. For health reasons and for environment too, I will make sure there is some millets everyday on your table. Or that is being over ambitious?

I will be in Hyderabad next week, and will conduct a workshop with a millets theme, millets for everyone and everyday, at Our Sacred Space. If you are in Hyderabad and want to learn how to cook with millets everyday, you are welcome. Please sign up with this workshop and have fun with millets.

We are planning to serve this sorghum banana pancake too at the workshop. Would you like to join us there?