Millet Kasha with Pumpkin: Sweet and Savory
My daughter Velvet was the fussiest of all fussy eaters and she drew the line at cereal of any kind – hot or cold. Three housekeepers and a babushka despaired of her! The one exception she made each year was pumpkin kasha with millet, made from the meat of jack o’lanterns we carved for Halloween.
The idea and the recipe was given to me by a cheerful woman at Leningradsky Rynok who kept back whole round pumpkins for us each October. When I first approached her about a pumpkin, she was curious why I wanted it whole and not cut up into chunks.
“Are you making millet kasha cooked in a pumpkin?” she asked.
“No,” I said confused, “Actually, I’m going to hollow it out and carve a scary face in it, then put a candle in it.”
She looked at me as if I was possessed by the devil. I explained that this is what we did on Halloween in America. She looked dubious. I asked her what she had meant. She explained that in “Old Russia” (which I took to mean anything before 1945) millet kasha made with pumpkin was baked inside a hollowed out pumpkin and had pride of place at any festive gathering, particularly in the autumn. The week after Halloween, when our jack o’lanterns had already collapsed and been consigned to the trash, my friend from the market pressed a small, whole pumpkin on us and encouraged us to try the recipe.
The result was a sweet, creamy, and decorative triumph, which even Velvet relished. I started to buy pumpkin chunks to experiment with different versions of pumpkin and millet kasha, both versatile foods that are much enhanced by successful flavor pairings. The two recipes, which follow have proved popular with even the fussiest eaters at my table, and are so good, that they make an appearance throughout the year – not just at Halloween!
Sweet Pumpkin & Millet Kasha
- 1-1/2 cups roasted pumpkin, pureed or small cubes
- 1 cup of millet
- 2 cups of milk
- 1/3 cup of honey or brown sugar
- ¾ cup of tvorog
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 tsp of ground all spice
- 1 cup of raisins or currents
- 3 Tbl of sweet butter – cut into small cubes
- 2 Tbl of Demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C)
2. Place the millet in a colander and run it under cool water for a minute. Set aside to dry.
3. Place the dried millet in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat and toast the grains for a few minutes until they begin to brown.
4. Add the pumpkin and stir to combine. Add the milk and cook until just simmering. Add the honey, (or sugar) salt, and spices and stir until the honey is dissolved in the mixture.
5. Cover and reduce heat, and cook for 15 minutes until the millet has absorbed almost all of the liquid.
6. Stir in the tvorog and raisins. Dot the top of the kasha with butter and sprinkle the top with the Demerara sugar. Cover the Dutch oven and place in the pre-heated oven for 15 – 20 minutes.
Savory Pumpkin & Millet Kasha with Sage and Thyme
- 1-1/2 cups of roasted pumpkin, pureed or cut into small cubes
- 2-1/2 cups of chicken stock
- 4 Tbls of butter, divided into two portions of 2 Tbls each
- 1 cup of millet
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 Tbl of sugar
- ½ tsp of nutmeg
- 2 tsp of salt
- 3 Tbls of chopped fresh sage
- 2 Tbls of chopped fresh thyme
- ¼ cup sour cream
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F or 160°C.
2. Rinse the millet grains in a colander under cool water for a minute. Set aside to dry.
3. Melt 2 Tbls of butter in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions. After 2 minutes, when the onions begin to soften, sprinkle the sugar and nutmeg on them and continue to sauté until the onions are golden, translucent, and very soft. Set aside.
4. Place a heavy bottomed Dutch oven onto medium heat and toast the dried millet grains for three minutes until they begin to brown. Add the cooked onions, salt, and roasted pumpkin, stirring to combine.
5. Add the chicken stock in small batches, stirring constantly. When you have added all of the stock, let the mixture come to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes until the millet has absorbed almost all of the liquid.
6. Add the sage, thyme, and sour cream and stir to combine. Dot the top of the kasha with the remaining 2 Tbl of butter, then cover and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.