NASA’s space shuttle, Atlantis, during its maiden voyage in 1985, carried with it, among many things, seeds of amaranth. It’s presence seemed natural—after all the amaranth is one of the most common types of millets found across the world, and is known to have around 70 varieties.
In India, it is known as rajgira, and has been part of our cuisine for centuries. However, the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, rajgira and many other millets disappeared from our diet, and got tagged as ‘poor man’s food.
Today, the discourse has changed. We have woken up to the fact that this grain is not just good for our gut but also for the ecology. The declaration of 2023 as the International Year of the Millets by the United Nations has added to the increasing conversation around these grains.
However, for this to become a mass dialogue, it is necessary to make young consumers aware of the benefits of this grain, that too in an engaging way. The recently-released book, Millets for Children—Rhymes, Recipes and Resources for all Ages, published by the Mumbai-based not-for-profit organisation, Indian Women Scientists’ Association (IWSA), is one step in that direction. Edited by Vijaya Chakravarty and Sweedle Shivkar, with Susan Eapen as the consultant, this book follows their earlier publication, Wild Forgotten Foods. The IWSA has brought out similar books in the fields of ecology, environment and nutrition in the past.
Millets for Children, which spans 168 pages, features 150 contributors hailing from the fields of agriculture, ecology, education, environment, medicine and nutrition. The book is packed with information and has a recipe almost on every page.
To make it palatable to children, it also contains illustrated DIY (Do It Yourself) recipes from college students, faculty, researchers, and young parents. Even young children can cook them under adult supervision. Some of the recipes have been shared by chefs such as Thomas Zacharias, cookbook authors from India and abroad, and more. The book also has a list of QR codes that will lead to videos of these recipes. The book has articles by experts like Khadar Vali, who is known as the millet man of India, Phiroza Godrej, health coach Nirmala Shetty, to name a few.
The mascot, Masti—a macaque—, can be seen dressed in various avatars, symbolizing the characteristics of millets. Even though this book’s target audience is children, it speaks to three generations right from grandparents to children.
“For any dietary changes in the family, the entire household must be involved. Children will not eat something unless they see the adults eat it too,” says Chakravarty, who is the co-editor of the book. “Today, with both parents working, the role of grandparents as caregivers is increasing. To introduce and popularise millets, all three generations must be involved.”
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The preface of the book states, “We had to rely heavily on the complete range of 21st-century skills—communication, creativity, flexibility, problem-solving, technology, and above all collaborations.”
As the book caters to children, from the age of six months and above, it doesn’t shy away from sharing popular dishes like burgers, pasta and pizza made from millet. “Children need a diet, which has both traditional and global components,” says Chakravarty. However, she maintains that certain norms, such as soaking, sprouting, boiling, need to be followed while cooking millets.
The publication also gives an insight into how millets are climate-smart grains. The different varieties can grow in dry climates, and in poor soil. That’s why millets are also known as a ‘famine foes’ and can play an important role in food security.
1/2 cup tofu
1/4 cup each of bajra, ragi, sorghum, and jowar flour
2 tbsp rice flour
1 medium size potato boiled
1 small green chilli-chopped
1/2 cup grated carrot and cabbage
1/4 cup of any green leafy vegetable-chopped
3 pinch each cumin and coriander powder
Salt to taste
Crumble tofu in a bowl. Add all the flours, chopped greens, boiled potato, grated carrot, cabbage, and green chilies. Sprinkle salt, cumin, and coriander powder on it. Mix well and create a dough. Take small balls of the dough and shape them into lollipops. Glaze the lollipops with ghee and air fry them at 180 degrees for 15 minutes. Transfer the crisp lollipops to a serving plate. Insert toothpicks into the fried lollipops.
Serve hot with any chutney or sauce.
Recipe by Padmaja Koka, Hyderabad
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