Double Tested

Counting nutrients and recipes with millets

The Dietary Guidelines for Indians by the Indian Council of Medical Research recommends that half the cereal component in a day should be from whole grains like millets

Nandita Iyer
First Published25 May 2024
(left) Mixed millet ‘roti’; and ‘ragi ambali’.
(left) Mixed millet ‘roti’; and ‘ragi ambali’.(Photographs by Nandita Iyer)

I am amazed by the maddening diversity of food Karnataka has to offer. North Karnataka, Dakshina Karnataka, Kodagu, Mangaluru, Udupi, Saraswat, and Navayath Muslim being some of the cuisines in the state. I have tasted, cooked and delved into recipes from almost all these regions and there is probably just one dish that has eluded my love.

It is ragi mudde.

The first time I had it, I almost choked. The mudde was probably too dense, or as newbie, I greedily took off too a large bite, or I didn’t soak it in enough curry to soften it. I still stay away from this very popular millet-based dish from Karnataka.

Also read: An app to help you navigate the ‘Indian’ calories maze

On the other hand, there are a couple of ragi dishes from Karnataka that I can’t have enough of—one being ragi ambali, which is a savoury beverage or porridge. The other is ragi roti. Unlike the thicker millet bhakris made in Maharashtra, these rotis from north Karnataka have aromatics like chillies, onions, coriander, dill leaves and other spices. These can also be made plain, but as soft rotis that puff up on the tava, and remain soft for one-two days when kept wrapped in a muslin cloth.

The Dietary Guidelines for Indians by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) along with the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) released on 8 May gives a strong nudge to include millets as a part of one’s daily diet. “My Plate for the Day”, which was published in the guideline, is a visual guide to what a balanced diet looks like.

It recommends that half the cereal component in a day should be from whole grains like millets because they provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, fibre and bioactive compounds that improve gut health.

It also emphasises that all cereal or millet-based diets should be had with adequate pulses or beans for good quality protein and fibre. I’m glad they have clearly mentioned the addition of a protein source. A common myth circulated on social media is that millets are a great source of protein.

While they do have higher protein content than rice, as per the Indian Institute of Millets Research website, the protein in millets ranges from 7.5-13g per 100g of most raw or uncooked millets. One eats roughly 25-30g of raw millet per serving which becomes 75-90g of cooked millet (most cereals triple in weight when cooked). It has around 2-3g of protein. Look at millets as a whole grain or complex carbohydrate and a source of dietary fibre and micronutrients, with some added protein and not as a protein source.

The Dietary Guidelines for Indians also advises eating a variety of millets as each has a different nutrient profile. For example, among millets, ragi has the highest amount of calcium, pearl millet is rich in iron and brown top millet has the highest dietary fibre.

A practical tip is to buy one-two kinds of millet in a month in small quantities and use them by rotation along with rice or any other grains, as they tend to go rancid quickly. Soak before cooking for at least an hour for varieties like kodo and foxtail and do an overnight soak for pearl millet. Grinding soaked millets along with pulses and fermenting them to make idlis and dosas is also a good idea. Use the ratio of 1:2 with water for fluffy millets that go into salads and upma (foxtail, little and kodo millet work well for both), and 1:3 for a mashed soft consistency.

There’s barely a dish I have not used millets in—salads made using a combination of millet (usually foxtail), beans, veggies and greens along with a flavourful citrus dressing being my favourite. It speaks of the versatility of this grain and how it can be used in both traditional and modern dishes. Check out the beautifully produced Millets Recipe Book by United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation on their website, which has a bunch of recipes from chefs around the world.

Ragi Ambali
(recipe from my book The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness)

Serves 2

Ingredients

4 tbsp ragi flour

Half tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 small onion, finely chopped

1-2 green chillies, finely chopped

1 sprig curry leaves

Method

In a small cup, make a slurry of ragi flour with half cup water. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a pan. Add the slurry and salt with constant stirring. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes until the mixture thickens and the flour is cooked. Whisk in the buttermilk, onions, chillies, and curry leaves. This can be had hot or at room temperature. The porridge will thicken on cooling.

Mixed Millet Roti

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

1 cup mixed millet flour

Half cup finely chopped onions

Handful of chopped coriander

2-3 green chillies, finely chopped

Half tsp grated ginger

1 cup of mixed chopped greens (spinach, fenugreek, spring onions)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp white sesame seeds

1-2 tbsp ghee to cook

Method

Combine all the ingredients except ghee in a bowl. Use warm water to make a soft dough.

Pat out the dough on a parchment paper or an oiled banana leaf. Transfer the roti by inverting the paper or leaf on a hot lightly greased tava. Press down using a spatula and gently peel off the paper/leaf. Cook on a medium flame for 4-5 minutes on each side, using a tsp of ghee on each side. Serve hot with a cup of yogurt.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

Also read: Refreshing cold brews for scorching days

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