AT THE MILLET UTSAV: From 5-star `bajra kichdo’ to `jowari idli’ to what do you know – cheeseballs, very delicious!

IT’S MILLETS UTSAV ALL AROUND! This one took place at the Goa Raj Bhavan’s Durbar Hall and organized by the Directorate of Agriculture…Minister of Agriculture Ravi Naik along with Director of Agriculture-GoG Nevil Alphonso, Senior Advisor and Nodal Officer for Goa State to Niti Aayog Dr Anna Roy, were there and it was not just talk about grow millets, eat millet to stay healthy, there was an amazing competition section displaying wholesome preparations using one or other or mixed millets from the more than half-a-dozen millets being promoted as wholesome grains currently by Central and State governments. Offline and online millets are all the rage nowadays as the message spreads that they are packed with qualitatively better nutrition.

By Tara Narayan

YET another millet utsav to rejoice over, never mind that the price of our come-lately millets are sky-rocketing. This is what happens when you promote something, it’s something to think about as good, bad or ugly. Still, here was a millet utsav to beat all other millet events because this one took place at the Raj Durbar of the Goa Raj Bhavan grounds, organized by the Agriculture Department of Goa with the blessings of Agriculture minister Ravi Naik who was present for the formal function and afterwards made the rounds of the various sections showcasing the nutritious millets available in the country. In fact, if you’re seeking better health, you may chuck refined white rice and wheat out of your kitchen and take to doing such seductive palate temptations as millet “ambil” or “tizaan” (savoury or sweet beverage/gruel), nachni satva, ragi ladoo, ragi and oats cookies and the piece de resistance for me – “bajra kichdi” or “kichdo” which was a most tantalizing desi savoury porridge made of soaked bajra/bajro in Gujarati (that is the greenish grey millet called pearl millet, a country favourite in Gujarat), all presented by Chef Rajkaran Gujjar of Cidade de Goa’s Horizon kitchen…take a bow Chefkaran, the bajra kichdo was a big hit with visitors at the Millet Utsav (see recipe elsewhere here).
There must have been 50 something entries for the Millet Competition and I must say women can cook millets be it the lesser or greater millets, little or big millets – jowar and bajra are considered big millets; ragi (also nachne), amaranthus, foxtail and barnyard millets are the little millets. There are also the kodo, browntop and proso millets…as a matter of fact most of the millets are “imported” and only a few native to India. Proso hails from Italy, I’m told, and where does brown top millet come from?

The dishes which stole my palate: the jowar idli, the bajra bhakri with ambadechyo karam, Unnati Baganikar’s cheeseballs of brown top millet and yellow ice-cream of little millet…Goa’s staple millet is naturally nachne (ragi) and so there were several entries of nachnechyo satvo (more delicious than any vanilla custard)…and much more, take a look at the pics here. There is also Iona Francis of Saligao with her ragi bread and confectionary. Now all that’s left is for the government to subsidize millets in its ration and horticulture outlets!

It was an altogether splendid millet utsav packed with women – there’s no doubt about it, the millets are making a come-back in a big way given the Narendra Modi government’s mega boosting. The story is that if with climate change happens majorly and we’re sunk in hard times – the hardy millets will still grow and one may not starve to death!
The event was overflowing with women from rural Goa in colourful ensemble, floral “veni” ornamenting their hairdo…and much more. Most got to taste the millet preparations on exhibit as I did too – I loved absolutely wholesome taste of Diksha Bakal’s “ragi idli” (No.39) and also Asha Madkaikar’s savoury “ragi noodles.” Meet Udai Baganikar’s wife Unnati from the Ponda where they do a small time eatery called “Great Bites” – Unnati had entered for the competition some scrumptious cheese balls using sorghum or jowar cheese balls, and a most delicate creamy yellow ice-cream of little millet (the gorgeous yellow coming from mango puree)…yummmmmy!
The exhibition opened up for tasting and everything got over quickly once the main event was over and the women flocked to take a closer look and taste the millet recipes prepared by various self-help groups and there were individual entries too, along with a section where millets and a variety of ready-to-eat snacks were on sale. Truly a bonanza and I couldn’t help thinking women can cook when they want to with passion and enthusiasm! Only I have given up on cooking, I don’t want to cook anymore and all I want to do is eat what I want to eat – simple “vari rice” tempered with buttermilk, or bajra kichadi or for that matter any of the millet kichadi…I mean, millets can well replace oatmeal any day for breakfast, think it over, just soak them overnight before doing some quick fix cooking

Line up of millets becoming popular in urban India courtesy Central and State government promotions and utsava and very well organised millet utsav like this one at the Durbar Hall, of Goa Raj Bhavan

One of these days remind me to go visit Uday and Unnati’s little eatery by the Ponda bus-stand called “Great Bites,” this I must see, they do only millet dishes daily or so Uday told me. Everyone is going millets crazy these days in upmarket society circles and even in middle class homes – and so what if the prices of millets are spiralling. What was once considered poor people’s cheap food is not considered rich people’s expensive food – and yes, I imagine the rich would get healthier while the poor would get unhealthier! The poor are eating refined rice and refined wheat flour and refined oil with lots of salt and spices…the message should go out to them not to abandon their millets of old and government ration shops must subsidize the sale of millets! Will it happen? It hasn’t happened so far.
WHAT else about the Millets Utsav? Some buys were irresistible and I came away with a bag full of Iona Francis’ ragi loaf (a tight hard loaf to be cut thinly with a sharp knife much like sourdough bread), and Subhadra Parab of Mankura, Bicholim had these most dulcet of “vari ladoo” (Rs150 packet of six ladoo) as well as other ladoo of mixed millets…someone was doing bajra ladoo which are hard to do to bring out the delicate flavour of the pearl millet. Pearl millet is said to be a warming millet and most country homes in Gujarat make bajra no rotla (thickish bhakri-style) and bhinda ni kadi (ladies finger buttermilk curry) for winter-time early evening meals. I also bought some nachne or ragi flakes. Many of the millets are now available in flakes so that one may soak them in whatever milk one wants to soak them in and … eat! Make it come alive with honey, seeds, nuts, elaichi powder, golden raisins, et al.

AT THE MILLETS UTSAV…..competition entries on display and for tasting later on once the judges have finish their rounds. Don’t miss the jowar idli, bajra khicdo, dhokla, ragi noodles, jowar cheese balls and little millet ice-cream!

The Durbar Hall was festooned with messages of “Grow Millets, Eat Millets, Stay Healthy” and oodles of charts and graphs up to appreciate the nutritional wealth of the millets family (these are said to be the more alkaline whole grains).
Once again, take a bow, millets of India!

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