I bought millet (a fluffy gluten-free grain) at Infinity Foods in Brighton on a recent trip that took in VegFest UK and several of the UK’s top vegan and veggie establishments. The only time I’d cooked with millet before was a very unsuccessful attempt at millet mash years ago. Since then, I had only ever touched the stuff in restaurants or shop-bought trail mix and still primarily thought of it mainly as a core ingredient in bird food. That, or the outdoor clothing store! But a friend was recently regaling me with interesting tales of millet experimentation so I picked up a bag whilst making the most of the much lower prices of health foods in Brighton.
Once home, a quick search for millet recipes mainly resulted in uninspiring millet mash or millet porridge. Maybe I had avoided millet for a reason… But then I read that it was often used as a subsitute for rice so decided to try my hand at tofu biryani. The Indian rice dish of biryani is not one that I would normally cook or order when out, but it is one that brings me an instant recollection of my dad’s kitchen growing up. I think it’s specifically the aroma of turmeric and cloves that takes me back. I remember never being too fussed if I knew my dad had made biryani but then savouring every last delicious, fluffy mouthful, which is exactly what I did with this!
Millet is not only much easier to cook than rice – it’s more like quinoa or cous cous as it doesn’t go wet or sticky easily – but it’s full of nutritional goodness. It’s reported health benefits include being good for the heart (due to it’s magnesium levels) and improving digestion plus having high levels of vitamin B, calcium, iron and zinc. Ticks all round from the superfood brigade, no doubt!
Tofu is a great alternative to paneer (Indian cottage cheese) due to it’s texture and ability to take on whichever flavours you cook with. Non-tofu fans could use chickpeas, or just go for veg biryani. Vegetarians could stick with paneer. Either way, the cooking method would be the same. Vegetable wise I was using up the remnants in my fridge which consisted of peppers, carrots, green beans and celery, however anything else could be subsituted – peas and potatoes are also common in biryanis.
Tofu and millet biryani
- 400g tofu
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp fennel*
- 2-3 cloves*
- 1 inch cinnamon stick*
- 1 bay leaf*
- 1 cardamon pod*
- 1 small red onion
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1/2 inch ginger, sliced
- 1 fresh or dried chilli, (your preference of red or green), sliced1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder (optional)
- Salt, to taste
- 2.5 cups of mixed vegetables (I used carrots, peppers, celery and green beans but peas and potatoes also go well), diced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup of millet, washed
- 1.5 cups of water
- 6-8 fresh mint leaves
- 1/2 tsp dried coriander (or a few fresh leaves)
*These ingredients represent ‘whole garam masala’. This adds a deeper flavour, but if you don’t have these ingredients whole you can substitute all the starred ones for 1 more teaspoon of garam masala. Note, the last three * are ‘don’t eat’ ingredients so remove them at the end, or just don’t eat them!
Cube the tofu and drain for 5 minutes then marinade with the lemon juice, chilli powder and turmeric.
Whilst marinading, slice and dice your vegetables, garlic, ginger and chilli. Remember to keep the vegetables fairly small so they will cook, especially veg like carrots which will take longer than peppers or peas.
Heat the vegetable oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the fennel, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf and cardamon (if you’re using more garam masala miss out this step and add that later alongside the rest of the spices) to temper them (an Indian method of bringing out the flavours).
Once the spices start to let off rich aromas (30-60 seconds) add the onion and cook for 1-2 minutes more, then add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Saute until soft.
Reduce the heat then add the rest of the spices, the vegetables, tomatoes and tofu plus a pinch of salt. Stir until everything is coated in spices. Cook for 3-4 minutes to bind the flavours, stirring to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.If it does start to stick, add a splash of water.
Add the millet, water, mint and coriander and stir until evenly distributed. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Leave the lid off the pan and cook for 12-15 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the millet and vegetables and cooked. Add more water little by little if required, but not too much that the mixture becomes too wet.
The end result should be softy, fluffy and aromatic! Serve on it’s own, with plain yoghurt or raita or as an accompaniment to other dishes like dal or sabzi.