Thursday, May 16, 2013

Millet Needs Help

The ancient grain millet, although still consumed daily in parts of China and India, never really staked its claim in Western kitchens outside the health food community. And even most of them abandoned its earthy (um, sorta chalky) charms after the 1970s. Cafe Drake HRV still holds a torch for this easily digested nutritional juggernaut but realizes partnering millet with something rich or saucy is paramount to its odd pleasures. For example, above: marinated onions, spicy baked tofu in hoison sauce and (in upper right plate quadrant) the easiest baked eggplant ever. Fresh herbs like chervil seen above also coax more flavor from the grain. The eggplant gratin is so insane good (and dairy-free to boot for those who care about such matters) we must share immediately. Start with 1 large eggplant, the plain old Italian variety, about 1 1/2 lbs in size. Slice 1/2" thick and this is important for a creamy texture; too thick slices will take forever to cook and no one likes rare eggplant. No need to peel. Soak slices in a big bowl of salted water for 1 hour. Drain and pat dry roughly if you wish. We sometimes just shake the excess moisture from the slices and proceed. While the eggplant soaks make a sauce by throwing into a blender: 6 chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1 chopped onion and 3-5 garlic cloves. Blend to a saucy consistency. Add about 8 fresh basil leaves (dry may be substituted), some oregano and/or thyme, fresh or dried and salt and pepper to taste. Blend one more time. Now place a single layer of eggplant slices into a well-oiled baking dish. Cover with half the tomato puree, more eggplant and a final layer of tomato sauce/puree. Sprinkle salt and olive oil over the entire surface, cover liberally with dried bread crumbs and re-season all with olive oil, salt and plenty of black pepper. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-50 minutes. The eggplant should be soft and creamy and the bread crumbs toasted and golden. Let sit for 10 minutes after removing from oven and serve warm. With anything. Millet?

Millet loves sitting next to a well-dressed salad. The grains soak up the flavor of any piquant vinaigrette.

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