I’m always on the lookout for exciting foods in the world of whole grains. After shopping at a Middle-eastern spice marked in Brooklyn, I came upon the grain “sorghum” also known as “milo,” and tried various recipes. Sorghum is believed to have originated in Africa and is grown there still, as well as China and India. Surprisingly, the US is the leader in growing sorghum on a world scale and that’s increasing constantly. Yet few have heard of it except as an obscure ingredient in grain or pastas. Farmers like it because of its draught resistance; hence it is often grown where corn, soy or wheat does not do well.
According to the Whole Grains Counsel, about 50% of sorghum is dedicated to human consumption, and other uses include animal fodder, and believe it or not, cardboard or biodegradable packaging. Its tiny seeds remind me a bit of irregularly shaped coriander-spice seeds with a tiny black dot on it. When cooked, sorghum is somewhat similar to Israeli couscous in terms of the mouth-feel.
One of the best properties is that it does not contain gluten -- these days many people eat a gluten-free diet whether because of allergy, food sensitivity or a desire to reduce gluten consumption for digestive reasons. Sorghum is widely used in gluten free or reduced gluten baking. Other gluten-free flours such as chickpea or buckwheat have a strong flavor profile that is not always welcome especially in a sweet baked baking. On the contrary, sorghum is flavor neutral and a good fit with breakfast and other sweet recipes – just think chocolate chip pancakes or porridge. Along the same lines, sorghum is popular in the form of syrup. If wheat flour has to be totally omitted, other gluten-free flours like tapioca or rice flour, and often the binding agent xanthan gum, will likely be added to the sorghum blend for bolstering the internal structure of pastries. That said, I don’t suggest using only sorghum flour. Using sorghum alone in recipes makes for dry, gritty baked goods. Overall, creating pastries or baked bread with about 30% sorghum results in a smoother texture.
Sorghum seeds make a fun snack. I prepare them the same way as homemade popcorn and it makes an enjoyable snack. It even passed the test of my 4 year old who was eating fistfuls of the sorghum “popcorn.” For the beer lovers who are gluten-free, sorghum based beer is a great alternative. Now we are talking!
Nutritionally, sorghum is a powerhouse of fiber and minerals with a good amount of iron, calcium and potassium, and its protein content is similar to corn.
Sorghum w/Swiss Chard Salsa Verd
(recipe yields four side portions
2 cups sorghum
6 cups water
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- In a gallon-sized pot, combine water, salt, and sorghum and bring to boil.
- Adjust the heat setting to medium, and cook for 45 minutes – at this point the sorghum should have a similar texture to cooked rice, if not, cook for 15 minutes longer.
- With a table-fork, stir sorghum and drizzle-in the olive oil – this will make it fluffy.
Swiss Chard Relish
1 bunch Swiss chard, green, red, rainbow optional
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt, to taste
black pepper from the mill, to taste
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
- Soak Swiss chard and parsley in a bowl filled with water.
- Put Swiss chard on kitchen paper towel or dry it in a vegetable spinner.
- Keeping stems and leaves separate, cut them into ½-inch wide. pieces
- Peel and slice shallots and garlic 1/8-inch thick.
- Chop parsley 1/8-inch wide.
- Heat a gallon-sized pot on high heat setting, add Swiss chard stems and shallots then olive oil – this way the olive oil won’t burn. Cook chard stems for 2 minutes then add leaves.
- Add ¼ cup vinegar, sea salt, and black pepper to taste. Cover pot with a lid and continue to cook 10 minutes more.
- Take Swiss chard off the stove and add parsley and lemon juice.
Serve the warm sorghum in small bowls and spoon the relish generously on top.
Chef’s tip: To add a little bit of indulgence, using a vegetable peeler, shave Parmesan over the sorghum & relish combo just before serving.