Mother Nature, why do you keep messing with us?
If you can’t make up your mind what season it is, how are we supposed to know what to eat?
Regular readers here may believe that I have officially crossed over to the yet unclassified condition known as weather-dependence.
Incurable? Not sure. But I ask you, how does anyone know what they feel like eating, and by extension, cooking, without seasonal signposts? No matter if the climate comes from the outside or the inside. Who hasn’t downed a pint of haagen dazs—make mine vanilla—in the midst of a personal global warming meltdown? We need parameters.
So, I am making up your mind for you, Mother Nature. Tease us. Blow hot or blow cold. I’m going with spring today, because I found a bag of shelled English peas in the market. (Trader Joe’s if anyone wants to know.) Now I’m all for meditating over a basket of peas, shucking them on the back steps and all that. But it is a summer occupation, a ritual I rely on when I need a vacation even though I am really just at home, wishing I were on a screen porch somewhere. For now, I’ll take the bag, and thank you very much Trader Joe’s.
I was expecting the peas to be starchy and a bit mushy, since as a general rule, peas’ sweetness migrates to starchiness soon after they are picked (hence the acceptability of, and often preference for, frozen peas), but these were pleasantly sweet and firm.
To make a quick grain and vegetable dish, I added some asparagus and chose millet (which is actually a seed, not a grain.) Why bird food, you ask? Well, I hadn’t cooked with it before, and what with all the hoo ha about quinoa, I wanted a change. It cooks quickly, too. I followed Whole Foods’ directions and destroyed the first batch with too much water. After that fiasco, I cut way back on the liquid, added some lemon juice and salt, and the grains emerged from the pot golden and separate with a hint of bite.
Then, as I was writing this post, a memory of a trip we took about 10 years ago popped up (really, where does the time go?) I was able to rummage around for these rudimentary photos of a tiny village in Tanzania where millet is a staple. Why it took me so long to cook it is a mystery. Turns out millet has been cultivated for at least ten thousand years, and since it grows well in harsh areas susceptible to drought, it is a staple in Africa and parts of Asia. It is an excellent source of magnesium (good heart health), phosphorous, iron and B vitamins. So there.
Serve it with roast chicken or some plain grilled meat or fish. If you like, add leftovers to your leftover pilaf: stir in some cooked chicken and eat it for lunch.
Millet with spring vegetables
For the millet
1 cup millet
1 3/4 cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine millet, water, lemon juice and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the millet absorbs the water and is tender. Fluff with a fork.
For the pilaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups shelled English peas
Finely shredded zest of 1 lemon
1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the scallions and cook 1 minute, or until soft. Add asparagus, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/2 cup water. Cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Add peas and 1/4 cup more water if pan is dry. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in half the lemon zest.
2. Toss the millet and vegetables together in a serving bowl. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. Sprinkle with remaining lemon zest.