December 08, 2010

How to Make Nutritious Food Exciting: Breakfast Millet Casserole

Russian power breakfast is hard to imagine without a hearty serving of  hot cereal (kasha) traditionally cooked with fat milk and relished piping hot with a piece of melting butter.  Even those of us who can get away with a cup of green tea or a bowl of fruit salad in the morning tend to come back to the kasha fare in winter. Yet as a favorite resort for grandmas, mothers and kindergarten chefs  hot cereals are seen just as sexy as your old fluffy sleepers and baggy pajamas. Isn't it time for putting on red manicure and exciting pungent scent?  

Breakfast Casserole with Millet

There is an easy explanation for the popularity of hot cereals in Russia. Vast arable lands in the harsh continental climate of Russia are suitable to cultivate a whole bunch of  cereals, such as millet, buckwheat, barley, wheat, rye and oats. These cereals have been the staples of the Russian diet coming to the tables as breads, pies, kissels and definitely kashas (hot cereals). There is a lot of wisdom in a hot cereal versus packaged flakes. Nutritionally speaking, the key component of any cereal is starch and it gets much easier to digest when cooked. Russians seem to have to know this for centuries - no wonder that kasha was a key dish in many meals for both peasants working in the fields and noble families caring for the balanced nutrition. The idea that kasha gives you energy to carry out your daily routines is still strong in Russia and when someone appears not fit for a physical endeavor we ask, "Have not you eaten enough kasha?"

In the old times there was no occasion when kasha was not appropriate: it was served as a major treat for the festive meals during the weddings, victory feasts, funerals and such. Weddings dinners  were even called "kasha". After the battles to celebrate the concluded truce the used-to-be-enemies sat down at the common table and shared kasha. We still say, "You can't share kasha with them" about someone who is difficult to cooperate with.

While you can make kasha of any cereal millet has been among the most common. Millet is a fantastic source of nutrition as it contains proteins, slow digesting carbohydrates, a bit of vegetable fat, vitamins B and a range of micro-elements.  Yet millet has fallen into the common "nutritious food trap": Russian grandmas, mothers and kindergarten chefs have been so keen on feeding us with the millet kasha that in fact you should not mention it in the presence of most grown-ups. Unless you intentionally want to hurt someone with rather uncomfortable childhood memories of  being subjected to the millet kasha with no variation and no option to dodge. 

During my recent visit to my parents my mom cooked it a few times: on the first instance, I felt very happy and nostalgic; the next time I thought it was wise to have got some fruits in the fridge too. After the third day of the millet kasha I realized it was time  for me to act. To empower that millet, to give it a chance go beyond the standard perceptions, to add some spice to its feel, to brighten  its image with additional colors. So I've added red hot chili pepper for spice and fresh parsley for pungency, stirred in dices of suluguni cheese (Georgian cheese similar to mozzarella) and crashed dried tomatoes for the interesting discoveries, then put the whole thing into a cast-iron skillet and topped with the beaten egg whites to produce a wonderful savory casserole. Here is your red polish and pungent  scent! Anything missing? A glass of champagne or any sparkling wine. Definitely!

Breakfast Casserole with MilletBreakfast Casserole with Millet Recipe 

Nutritious and exciting millet casserole with the touches of red chili, fresh parsley, dried tomatoes, slightly melted cheese and golden brown crust of the egg white

Inspired by Bread*Salt Dec 2010

Preparation time: 40 min
Time in the oven: 40 min

Ingredients (serves 4):
200 g dry millet
2 glasses water
1 tsp salt
1 glass crème fraiche (or Greek yogurt for low fat version)
2 eggs (whites and yolks separated), room temperature
150 g mozzarella (originally used Georgian suluguni; halloumi or other cheese with high melting point will work), diced
1/2 red hot chili pepper, thinly sliced
5 large dried tomato halves, crashed with the chef's knife
2 tbsp fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tsp butter for greasing the iron-cast skillet 
crème fraiche or Greek yogurt for serving

Breakfast Casserole with Millet


1. Cook the millet: Wash the millet until the water becomes transparent: go through the grits to remove any little stones. Pre-soak the washed millet for a few hours in lukewarm water. Then add salt, put on the high heat, bring to boil, reduce the heat to low and let cook covered for 5-7 minutes until the water evaporates. Remove from the heat, wrap the cooking pot with a few towels tightly and let sit at a warm place for at least 20 minutes while you are busy with the rest of the ingredients. Here I feel obliged to tell you that traditional Russian way to cook cereals would be exactly that - first, cook them in a clay pot over the heat (in the oven) and then wrap it in the fur coat (we usually take fancy ones such as sable - just kidding!) and let them sit by the oven to get perfectly done. You should try it on a cold winter day and you will never ask again how Russians survive their harsh winters.

Breakfast Casserole with Millet
Breakfast Casserole with Millet

2. Make the casserole: Back to the cooking though. Preheat the oven to 160 C (320 F). Whisk the egg yolks with a pinch of salt and stir in the crème fraiche. Prepare the parsley, red hot chili pepper and the cheese. Grease the iron-cast skillet with the butter. Add all the prepared ingredients to the millet,  mix well and transfer to the skillet. Now beat the remaining egg whites into a stiff foam: take a clean dry bowl, add a pinch of salt and beat with a hand mixer for about 2 minutes at medium speed, then add a drop of lemon juice and beat for 2 more minutes on the high speed. Once done spread this foam with a clean spatula over the millet casserole. Sent to the over and bake for about 40 minutes until the golden brown crust forms on top of your casserole. Serve hot with crème fraiche or Greek yogurt. And a glass of champagne!

Breakfast Casserole with Millet

1 Response to How to Make Nutritious Food Exciting: Breakfast Millet Casserole:

Apu said...

Yumm!! That looks fab!!

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