One of the criticisms directed towards proponents of a whole-food plant-based diet is that it’s elitist, too expensive for people on lower incomes with limited access to fresh produce. And I guess it could be seen as very middle class if all you talk about is quinoa and avocados, or eating the latest superfood with a super price tag.
The reality, however, is that whole plant foods have been sustaining the poorer populations of the world for thousand of years. Cheap food created from intensively farmed land produced in laboratories and factories are a very recent phenomenon. Indeed, whole plant ingredients like red lentils, beans and seasonal fruit and vegetables remain some of the cheapest available. As long as you have access to them.
Food deserts are found in many Western countries including the UK, where access to affordable fresh food is limited. Research in 2018 by Sheffield University found that 1.2million people in the UK lived in a food desert. Since that report, organisations like Fareshare have worked hard to make sure that affordable healthy food is distributed fairly around all parts of the UK whilst reducing food waste at the same time. Which is just as well as the cost of food has been a key driver of inflation in the last year, with food inflation currently running at just under 17%.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to cooking facilities, then there are lots of whole plant foods that are cheap to buy, easy to cook and are nutrient dense. One of those is millet.
Whenever I suggest millet to people, someone invariably turns up their nose and decry it as birdseed. Which of course is one of its uses! But it’s not just good for birds, but for many animals including elephants and humans!
Millet is an ancient grain eaten by humans for thousands of year. In fact it’s not a ‘grain’ but a seed, which makes it gluten free too. There are many varieties found throughout the world including Asia, South America and Europe. Finger millet is found in many Indian recipes. Known as ragi (we used to watch elephants being fed with huge ragi balls) it makes highly nutritious porridge and breads for a very low cost. Teff flour, often used by people following a gluten free diet, is ‘small’ millet. It comes from Ethopia and again has been used for generations there to make cheap, nutritious bread and meals, although carries a higher price tag in the UK.
Unless you go to a specialist Asian store, the millet you will find on sale in the UK is pearl millet, a larger seed with a yellow hue that’s grown around the EU. Some supermarkets stock it, but you’re more likely to find it in stores like Holland and Barrett or Grapetree (where it’s super cheap). Many refill shops stock it too; this is where I’ve been buying mine for a while to reduce packaging – I just take my jar along and fill it up. Amazon is another source – I’ve bought this one before.
Nutrition wise, millet is high in fibre and being a whole grain keeps you full for longer as well as keeps your gut bacteria happy. It’s also a great source of plant-based protein (higher than many grains) plus essential minerals like manganese and magnesium as well as B vitamin. But, as with many plant foods, one of its most marvellous properties are magical anti-oxidant phytonutrients that help to reduce inflammation and support the body to work ‘well’.
There’s two other things about millet that’s really important apart from being cheap and nutritious.
- it’s quick to cook
- it tastes delicious! Which is of course most important.
When cooked, millet can be used as the base for salads (there’s a yummy lemony millet salad in my book, bakes like this tasty millet and vegetable bake (where I also explain how to cook millet) and as an accompanying grain for dishes like this roasted cabbage and tahini recipe.
This millet ‘risotto’ recipe is a great way of using up leftover veggies or tofu you have in the fridge, thereby reducing food waste. But it also works well with mixed frozen veg that’s convenient as well as cheap. I guess the recipe is a mix between a kind of risotto and pilaf – hence the quotation marks! It’s a firm family favourite and a useful one too if you need to include someone who is gluten free.
I hope you enjoy making this super tasty, adaptable, quick and cheap recipe. It will fill hungry bellies with lots of lovely whole ingredients – you can’t get much better than that!
- 100 grams millet
- 350 mls vegetable stock
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 1 small clove garlic grated
- 300 grams whatever vegetables you have in the fridge to use up eg celery, carrot, broccoli stems, courgette, pepper, mushrooms etc
- 300 grams frozen mixed vegetables defrosted eg peas, sweetcorn, carrots, peppers etc
- 100 grams leftover smoked tofu, cooked beans or vegan 'bacon' optional
- 2 tsp mixed dried herbs
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh chopped herbs optional
- nutritional yeast
- Pour the vegetable stock into a small-medium sized pan and bring to a simmer.
- Rinse the millet under running water then carefully add to the stock (it can bubble up and over if the stock is boiling too hard, hence be careful!)
- Pop on the lid, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until all the stock it absorbed and the millet is cooked and fluffy. Turn off the heat.
- Whilst the millet is cooking, add 2 tablespoons of water to the base of a large non-stick pan and add the onion and any raw vegetables that need time to soften like carrot or broccoli stem. Sauté for 5 minutes then add any remaining vegetables and the dried mixed herbs and continue to cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
- If using frozen vegetables, add the garlic to the pan first, then add the defrosted vegetables along with the dried mixed herbs and cook on a medium heat until piping hot.
- If using leftover tofu, beans or vegan bacon, add these to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Once everything is piping hot, add the cooked millet to the pan and stir well to combine. Simmer on a low heat for another 2 minutes then turn off the heat.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper then serve in bowls with fresh chopped herbs and/or nutritional yeast. Eat straight away.