I almost suggested calling this recipe "pantry pilaf" because we all probably have all the ingredients on hand—then I realized some may not think of millet as a pantry essential. But that changes now!
I adore the golden grain and always have it stocked; it’s one of my favorite whole foods for quick, easy, and comforting winter meals. Millet can be cooked like rice, which results in a fluffy texture that tastes great but can skew a bit dry on its own, especially once it’s cool. To reveal millet’s best qualities, cook it with plenty of water—in a porridge, cooked and set like polenta, or with plenty of soft cooked vegetables like in this pilaf. The result is creamy yet surprisingly light.
This pilaf often becomes a one-pot meal in my house. It is simple, satisfying, and incredibly tasty once you add the toppings. You can also use what you have on hand: Add curry powder, chopped fresh ginger or garlic, or both. Use cabbage, turnips, sweet potato, or cauliflower in place of the carrots and squash and celery—basically any vegetable that can withstand 30 minutes of simmering can be used here. Try switching out the frozen peas with frozen corn or cooked chickpeas.Don’t have baby spinach? Just shower the dish with lots of fresh parsley before serving.
And as for toppings, of course, this is delicious topped with any number of other staples you might have in your fridge: fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, hemp seeds, cilantro, avocado, crumbled feta, or chopped toasted nuts.
Be sure to wash millet thoroughly, either before or after soaking it. This will ensure that you remove the saponin, a natural bitter coating that protects the grain from bugs and other wildlife.
Soaking whole grains improves their flavor, texture, nutrition, and digestibility. An overnight soak helps reduce phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor that is present in the skin of whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid prevents these nutritious whole foods from sprouting until they are exposed to water. If phytic acid is not deactivated, the nutrients cannot be absorbed properly. —Amy Chaplin
Test Kitchen Notes
Whole Food Cooking is a column by our Resident Vegetarian-at-Large, Amy Chaplin. Each month, Amy will show us a different way to love fruits and vegetables just a little bit more. —The Editors
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 35 minutes
- Serves 4 to 6
millet, soaked overnight in about 2 cups filtered water
coconut oil or ghee
small yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cups
butternut squash, cut into a ½-inch dice
carrot, cut into a ½-inch dice
celery, cut into a ½-inch dice
2 1/2 cups
cups filtered water
baby spinach, lightly packed
Tamari, thinly sliced scallions, toasted seeds (like sunflower, pumpkin, sesame), extra-virgin olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
- Drain and thoroughly rinse the millet; set aside in a strainer while you start the pilaf. Set the peas aside and allow them to begin defrosting.
- In a medium pot (3 or 4-quart is perfect) over medium heat, warm oil or ghee and add onions. Sauté for 5 minutes or until golden, then stir in salt and drained millet. Continue cooking for a couple more minutes to coat millet in oil and cook off any excess water (from washing).
- Stir in turmeric and spread millet over the bottom of the pot. Cover with squash, carrots, and celery and pour in water. Bring up to a boil over high heat; cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes or until all the water is completely absorbed.
- Remove the lid and sprinkle peas over the surface of the pilaf; top with spinach and immediately return the lid. Set aside for 10 minutes (or until peas are defrosted and spinach has wilted), then gently fold spinach and peas through pilaf.
- Divide into bowls and top with tamari, scallions, toasted seeds, olive oil, and a pinch of black pepper.
- Note: Any leftover pilaf can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. It’ll become quite firm when cool but will soften again once reheated. To reheat, place pilaf in a steamer and steam until heated through.