It’s been a strange day here in Cambridge. I woke up early as usual, but to an unexpected chattering of voices in my kitchen — my roommates up and at ’em, much earlier in the day than most mornings. My city has been on lock-down all day, the only sounds outside are sirens, helicopters, and a few chirps of only the most stubborn of songbirds. I can’t begin to explain what this kind of uncertainty feels like but that to say that it’s a bit scary and very confusing.
And stressful. It’s also stressful.
I do a few things when I’m stressed out. First, I eat. More specifically, I eat a lot of one thing — often chocolate. And so, at 7:30 this morning, I went at it with a big block of 100% dark chocolate. When that was completely devoured, I moved on to carob chips.
The second thing I do when I’m stressed (and even when I’m not) is I keep busy. There were no dishes to wash, so I dirtied some — dirtied an awful lot, actually. I spent upwards of an hour and a half chopping vegetables and fluffing millet, feeling the warm breeze come in through the kitchen window and eating an undisclosed number of carob chips… which are now also gone, by the way. Oops.
This is not paella. If there are any Spaniards out there reading this, I repeat: This is not paella. I read this article in the New York Times Magazine last week, and so I know that, in the realm of paella, it is not discretionary to call anything other than a duck a duck. This, in fact, is not even arroz con cosas: rice with things. That’s right, I wrote a paella recipe that calls for absolutely no rice. None at all. I’m sorry.
Instead, this dish is made with millet — a grain I only very recently came to explore. Having once upon a time worked in infectious diseases (and now most currently in pathology), I have had trouble considering this grain without also considering miliary tuberculosis, which is named for the way its clinical presentation mimics the appearance of the millet seed. Gross, right? (Why am I telling you this?) Admittedly, I have read many a delightful millet recipe and have, until recently, ignored each and every one of them — and this sad fact is only one of my many occupational hazards. I was feeling brave last week, though, and so I bought some millet — and I’m awfully glad that I did. When I cut out gluten, couscous was one of the most difficult things for me to give up. I could eat it everyday, and I think some weeks I did. Millet has a very couscous-like quality to it, but it’s a grain, not a pasta — and a gluten-free grain at that. And, not for nothing, but it’s delicious.
So maybe for a little while I’ll be scared and confused and stressed out, but I’ll also be well fed. For everybody else in the Boston area tonight, stay safe, stay focused, and stay hungry. Make something good to eat tonight, and share it if you can. Pretend that staying in is a choice that you have made and not an order from the governor. Keep going.
Supper still may not cure all the evils of the world — it may not always keep us safe or set our neighborhoods free — but it’s a start. And that’s something.
Paella-Style Millet Sauté.
- 1 cup hulled millet
- 2 cups water
- Sea salt + cracked black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 large pinch saffron
- 1 teaspoon Spanish paprika, divided
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
- 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
- 10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 1 bunch (about 3/4 pound) rainbow chard, leaves cut into ribbons and stems chopped)
- 1 14-ounces canned artichoke hearts, chopped
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1/3 dry red wine
- Fresh basil, chopped
First, cook the millet. Put the millet in a pot over medium heat, and toast it dry until the grains are fragrant. Before it starts to burn, add the water, turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and the saffron. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover, reduce to a simmer, and let it cook about 15 minutes, until the millet absorbs the grains and cooks through. When it’s done, turn off the heat and let the millet sit covered for another 10 minutes. After, take a fork and fluff it as you would couscous. Salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet or pot, heat the butter over medium heat. When it’s warm, add the onion, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of salt, and cook until the onion is translucent. Then add the chopped pepper and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, chopped chard stems, artichoke hearts, and red wine, and saute until the mushrooms are completely soft and the chard stems have lost their bitterness, about 10 more minutes. Add the chard leaves, the peas, and continue to cook until the greens have completely wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.
In a large bowl, toss the fluffed millet with the vegetable saute. Top with freshly-chopped basil.