Feb 18, 2011
I think I should experiment more with traditional Russian/Eastern European ingredients, trying to create my own, new recipes inspired by these foods. Millet is one of the foods that are very characteristic of old Russian cuisine. You would hardly see any modern recipes using millet, but it’s still widely available in local supermarkets even here in Latvia. A bowl of millet flakes boiled in sweetened milk is a great alternative to oatmeal for breakfast. But even though millet flakes are much faster to make, I still prefer millet grains. The warming and healthful millet meal is one of my favourite comfort foods. Millet is rich in vitamins В1, В2, В5, PP, and protein, and it’s gluten-free. It’s also very versatile, as it can be made both in sweet or savoury variations, or milled into flour and then used for baking flatbreads, for example.
One of the traditional ways to cook sweet millet in Russian cuisine is to cook it in boiling milk with pumpkin and then let it sit in the oven for some 15 minutes. Another option is to add prunes or raisins. Millet is normally cooked untoasted. As a savoury dish, millet can be cooked with lard and, optionally, fried onions, potatoes, green herbs, etc. This thick soup called Kulesh, served as the main course, belongs to traditional cuisines of Ukraine and Southern Russia.
I have never tried making Kulesh myself - I think I would have to play with the traditional recipes a little bit before this dish could be adapted to modern taste - anyway, this time I just wanted to make something new and unconventional. And I thought of baked millet bars on a shortbread crumb base. This was a total improvisation - I added a pinch of this and a dash of that - which eventually worked out pretty good. I mixed the millet meal with beaten egg to make it fluffier and added a layer of pear apricot jam between the shortbread and the millet. This jam layer turned out to be the most problematic part for two reasons: 1) the jam didn’t want to spread over the crumbs, 2) its flavour didn’t really come through in ready millet bars. So, if you ever decide to try this recipe, feel free to experiment with fruit/jam in it and suggest your ideas. I felt like millet bars without any fruitiness in them would be too chewy and plain. Maybe I should have incorporated bits of dried fruit in them. This recipe is totally open for improvements, I am just posting my Beta version - this is just a humble blog of mine, after all.
Oh, and a few words on the bars: they were very filling and there were a lot of them. I believe it would be wise to reduce all ingredients twice unless you have an Italian family. The bars should be eaten warm, best served with sour cream or creme fraiche. They have a rustic look and a nice, expressed texture formed by tender, plump millet grains. The shortbread base adds a more sophisticated and finished look to these simple, homely baked bars.
1 cup millet
2 cups milk
4 tbsp + 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt x2
4 heaping tbsp flour + 1 1/2 cup flour
100g margarine, chilled
2 tbsp whipping cream
200g apricot pear jam
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Rinse the millet in cold water until the water becomes more or less transparent (millet tends to be very floury).
Bring milk to a boil and pour millet into boiling milk. Simmer under the lid, stirring frequently, until the grains are tender and moist yet with a firm centre:
Allow to cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Prepare shortbread crumbs by mixing chopped margarine, 1 1/2 tbsp sugar, a pinch of salt, whipping cream, and 1 1/2 cup flour. Start making the crumbs with a knife and make finer crumbs using your hands.
Place the crumbs into a deep 30×24cm baking pan and gently press down the crumbs to form a denser base.
Spread jam over the crumbs. You don’t have to make a perfect layer of jam, as the jam will be smoothed down by millet mix later.
Beat the eggs with a hand mixer. Combine and mix cooked millet, 4 tbsp sugar, vanilla sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Fold in the beaten eggs and gently stir.
Spread millet mix over the jam layer and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake for 45 minutes (at middle position) or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
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