Meet “Miss January,” that’s what I’m calling millet, the tiny grain that is our first feature in A Year of Whole Grains. It’s my year-long study of grains where I’ll be showcasing a different one each month, so that by the close of 2014 we’ll all have a better handle on the nutritional and culinary upsides of these nourishing foods.

If millet looks at all familiar to you, perhaps it’s because you’ve fed it to the birds in your backyard. Millet is a common ingredient in birdseed, though don’t go buying your grain in a pet store since it’s processed differently than millet meant for human consumption.

While millet might be a relative newcomer to American kitchens, it’s widely used throughout Asia and parts of Africa. Aside from being super affordable, millet holds appeal for its quick cooking time and mild, nutty flavor that lends itself to both sweet and savory preparations.  From a nutrition standpoint, millet is a gluten-free grain that is high in fiber and magnesium, and offers a dose of  B vitamins, protein, and iron.

I’ve been having far too much fun in the kitchen these past few weeks boning up on all things millet. Along the way, I’ve found a few preferred preparations:

  • Cooked on the stovetop into a creamy, savory porridge that can sub in for polenta or mashed potatoes as with this recipe for Millet with Cheese and Chives from Food 52. I topped it with wilted kale for lunch one day and served it alongside grilled flank steak for dinner the next. Delicious.
  • Used warm or cold in simple grain salads, much like you might use quinoa or rice, such as this pretty Millet Salad with Corn and Avocado from Cooking Light.
  • Worked into quick breads and muffins such as this recipe for Buttermilk Millet Muffins,which uses both millet and millet flour.

But my favorite use for millet is as the backbone for homemade breakfast bars as is the case with today’s recipe. These bars come from the pages of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for any Eater and Every Appetite, a cookbook by my friend Sarah Copeland.

Since we’re talking whole grains, I don’t know many food writers who work magic with grains in the way that Sarah does. Besides these  bars, her book showcases amaranth in a peanut butter cookie that will knock your socks off, farro in a winter salad that my oldest is still talking about, four-grain English muffins that puts Thomas’ to shame, and barley in an inspired risotto good enough for company.

But  back to the bars. They’re a combination of  millet, oats, nuts, and seeds, bound together with dates, honey and maple syrup. The result is a bar that does just what a granola bar should do: sustain you. It’s the sort of portable goodness to ply into a child’s hand as they race out the door without breakfast in their belly, wrap in parchment and tuck into a pocket for a day on the slopes, or pack into a carry-on for a long flight.

So go stock up on millet. Make these bars. Experiment. Explore. Report back if you stumble upon a millet recipe worth trying.

It’s a Year of Whole Grains, people.

Crowd goes wild.

Millet & Oat Breakfast Bars

Genmaicha is a type of green tea with toasted brown rice that adds a malty flavor to these bars. If you don't have genmaicha or don't want the little boost of caffeine, feel free to leave it out. The bars are plenty flavorful without it.
Servings 9 to 12 bars
Author katiemorford

Ingredients

  • 2 cups /170 g old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup /60 g millet (or uncooked quinoa)
  • 1/3 cup /30 g raw sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp raw unseasoned pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/3 cup /50 g toasted pecans
  • 1/3 cup /50 g toasted skin-on almonds
  • 1 packed cup pitted Medjool dates
  • 1/3 cup /75 ml Grade B maple syrup , plus more as needed
  • 1/4 cup /60 ml honey or brown rice syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp genmaicha green tea leaves (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C/gas 3. Line an 8-in/20-cm square baking pan with parchment paper with overlapping flaps.
  2. Stir together the oats, millet, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Pulse the pecans and almonds in a food processor until coarsely chopped (it’s OK if some nuts are coarsely ground and a little powdery). Stir into the oat mixture.
  4. Pulse the dates in a food processor until a thick paste forms. Add the maple syrup, honey, and vanilla, and pulse until a purée forms. Scrape out the purée with a rubber spatula and stir into the oats mixture. Continue stirring (your clean hands work best), adding the tea leaves if using, until the oats and nuts are sticky and coated with the purée. If the mixture doesn’t clump together easily, add up to 1 tbsp of maple syrup
  5. Transfer the granola to the prepared baking pan and press into a smooth, even layer. Bake until just starting to brown around the edges, about 25 minutes. Transfer to the counter to cool slightly in the baking pan, about 15 minutes. Grab the flaps of parchment paper and lift out the whole batch transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 bars while still warm. Let them cool completely and serve, or store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Recipe Notes

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Feast from the publisher. All opinions expressed are completely my own.