Sharing more thoughts on the same, Rushina Ghildiyal happily agreed to contribute her thoughts on her experience with indigenous grains. A friend, mentor and co-foodie, Rushina has been my partner in crime in many a culinary ventures. She’s one of the pioneer bloggers of our country and blogs at https://rushinamunshawghildiyal.blogspot.com/
Rushina’s passion for discovering and rediscovering heirloom recipes and tracing their roots shows in her work. Here’s her write-up on her brush with Barnyard Millet…
DADIMA NO VARSO (Grandmother’s Legacy)
Guest blog by Rushina Ghildiyal
As a child I remember looking forward to days when my Grandmother observed fasts. Unaware of the religious connotations of her fasting, my only focus was what she ate when she sat apart from everyone for her one Ekadashimeal of the day. And eagerly waiting for leftovers! Because they were far more alluring than the usual daily fare of RDBS (or roti, dal, bhaat, subzi). I think at some point she figured this out, because the leftovers doubled in quantity! The dish that had my attention? Ghensh, a savoury porridge like dish made of a millet, also called Moriyo in Gujarati.
I remember watching our Maharaj make Moriyo(before he started cooking the rest of the meal for the family) on those days. A small kadhai would go onto the gas. In would go some ghee. When it was hot, cumin would be added, furiously crackling as the kitchen filled with that magic aroma of spices and fat coming together. Green chilli would go in next, spluttering as it let of its fire. But soon, buttermilk (or a thin yogurt solution) followed, cooling, gentling the spices and settling things to a slow simmer. The Moriyo and potatoes would be added, and the whole slow cooked till the grains were turgid and the potatoes tender and moreish having absorbed the green chilli laced sourness of the yoghurt. As I write I remember the distinct spicy lactic sourness, a flavour profile that was unforgettable!
So, imagine my surprise to find it again, years later, in Garhwal as Paleu made by my husband’s Nani. A dish of Jhangora cooked in buttermilk or yogurt in an iron kadhai and eaten as either a sweet porridge with sugar or a savoury one with Hara namak (a flavoured condiment made by pounding green garlic with salt and green chillies). The composition was a little different, but the flavours were almost the same!
But a bit of research and connecting of dots and it was not so surprising. Moriyo and Jhangora are both strains of a millet species collectively called Genus Echinochloa, commonly named Barnyard millet, a species that has been part of the traditional Indian diet for centuries! Millets are mentioned in some of the oldest surviving Yajur veda texts and the consumption of Barnyard millet, (called Aanava at the time), goes as far back as around 4500 BC. Its use spread with the dissemination of Indian cuisine and is today used across the country, and came to be known by many local names. From Samvat Ke Chaval in Hindi and Jhangora in Garhwali, to Vari Che Tandul, Varai or Baghar in Marathi and Samoor Morioyo in Gujarati, to Kodisama in Telugu and Kudirai Vali in Tamil.
Although traditionally consumed as a regular part of the daily diet in many regional cuisines, today these tiny round grains are predominantly associated with fasting meals. During fasts, tradition calls for consumption of a limited selection of ingredients, of which Barnyard millet is one that is allowed and therefore used as a substitute for rice in rice-based dishes since it is a traditionally foraged food that is easily digestible. The fact that it has low GI has also seen it being adapted as a diabetic friendly food.
But here’s the thing. Barnyard Millet should not be relegated to fasting days and special diets!
We should all be eating more of it and other ingredients, like our Grandmothers.
Millets have been the major staple food our diets for centuries. In fact, until as recently as 50 years ago, they were a major grain grown by us, and an integral ingredient in our local food cultures.
The Green Revolution and the promotion of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat during the 1970s and a growth in prosperity brought aspirations cause millets to be perceived as “coarse grains” that did not fit into more sophisticated diets, causing them to be displaced from food basket.
Which is ironic, because it is its “coarseness’ that makes it good for us!
With a ‘sophisticated’ flattened diet that consumes just rice and wheat, and a handful of supermarket shelf vegetables, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are losing out on something extremely valuable. Our food diversity. And the critically important, richly varied, nutrients that the diverse diet of our ancestors provided.
Because while we focused on what Barnyard millet does not have, we forgot what it DOES have. A 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. That’s a lot of really good stuff we are missing out on! My Grandmother and yours would agree!