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From porridge to popcorn: how to cook with the ancient grain sorghum | Food

IIt could be a branding issue, admits Roxana Jullapat. Sorghum sounds strange – and not particularly tasty. “I wonder: why did quinoa get a chance and sorghum not?” says Jullapat, who runs Friends & Family bakery in Los Angeles. She is also the author of Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. It’s a cookbook, but also a love letter to whole grains and a manifesto for weaning people off of wheat. Although jullapat covers other “old” grains – including rye, oats and barley – in the book, sorghum is perhaps the least known to most UK readers.

Sorghum originally came from Africa, where it is commonly eaten, and made its way to the southern United States, likely with enslaved people. It later became an important harvest – especially for the sweet sorghum molasses made from it – for African American families in the south; Culinary historian Michael W Twitty has spoken about the recovery of sorghum. It is also popular in the Middle East and East Asia. It’s a very weather-resistant crop and can be grown in densely populated areas, which makes it valuable for food security.

In the UK, you can find sorghum at some health food stores or supermarkets serving Asian and African communities, or online. Here are Jullapat’s tips on how to deal with it.

Use it in gluten-free baking

Sorghum flour does not contain gluten and is a valuable addition to the pantry of those who avoid it. “It’s a white, neutral-tasting flour,” says Jullapat. “Oat and buckwheat flour are gluten-free, but they have distinctive aromas. Rice has a neutral taste, but it is incredibly dense, making it difficult to make bread from. “

Jullapat prefers not to use additives like xanthan gum to make up for the lack of gluten. “I use it in recipes where you have other ingredients to balance the body. I like to use it for carrot cake because there are tons of shredded carrots and raisins. I also like to use it in recipes with a lot of butter, especially when the butter is melted. “Your book contains a recipe for a delicious-sounding brown butter cake with hazelnuts, as well as several cookie recipes.

Try flatbread

Bhakri Jowar, an Indian flatbread made from sorghum flour. Photo: Manu Bahuguna / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Sorghum is good for flatbread, says Jullapat, because it’s difficult to get it to rise. “A popular way to use sorghum is to make tortillas and roti. Very hot water is often used in flatbreads, so the flour is partially cooked. It increases elasticity and you can roll it. ”

Use the whole grains

They have a chewy bite, sweetness, and “subtle, nutty taste … they feel a little creamy,” says Jullapat. “More than any other grain I work with, they remind me of vegetables – they make me think of parsnips, carrots and golden beets. Sometimes they feel almost herbaceous to me, like thyme and sage. These are background flavors. Sorghum is a good teammate – it makes other players shine. “

Discover its versatility

Sorghum, asparagus and tomato salad with tahini and limeSorghum, asparagus and tomato salad with tahini and lime. Photo: IriGri8 / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Use it like couscous or make porridge. “It can also be cooked like a risotto because it creates that creaminess,” says Jullapat. This is because it’s starchy – which also means it can be used to make “a really mean burger,” she says: “It keeps its shape.” It goes great with salads too, she adds: “You can soak it in delicious vinaigrettes. It loves olive oil. Because it’s sweet, I love it with sour flavors like olives or a good pinch of lemon. “Boil it like pasta, she says,” tons of boiling water and salt, then when it’s tender, just drain it. ” She soaks it in advance, but says that it is not essential. “I think it’s more important to do a good rinse under running water before cooking to wash off some of the starch [when not beneficial]. ”

Pop it

Cook it like popcorn. “The grain is smaller, so it’s really cute,” says Jullapat. The yield is low, so it works best as a topping. Jullapat adds it to a mix of spices like coriander and dukkah-style cumin. “My recipe contains sesame seeds and cashew nuts. I put the popped sorghum in it and we sprinkle it over avocado toast, ”she says.

Get some sorghum syrup

Sorghum syrupSorghum syrup. Photo: smartstock / Getty Images / iStockphoto

As already mentioned, sorghum is also processed into syrup or molasses. “It can be used just like you would use treacle in your recipes. My favorite thing to do is sweeten whipped cream because it’s not super sweet and it gives a butterscotch flavor, ”says Jullapat. These are small products that are often sold by individual farms, primarily in the southern US states. They can be difficult to get in the UK – you can buy them online in the US, although it isn’t cheap.

Open the door to other old grains

While sorghum isn’t a supermarket staple in the UK, it is other grains that Jullapat is passionate about. Moving away from wheat flour, or at least replacing some of it with rye or buckwheat flour, will help you understand better why this is a relevant way of feeding yourself and your family. You will gain more flavor and nutrition, but there is a bigger mission out there to help preserve seeds for future generations.

“By using these products, we are sending a direct message to food manufacturers that there is an interest in keeping these plants alive. We call these seeds ancient grains because they have been neglected for many decades. There is a sense of recovery, of gaining something that we have lost. “

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution by Roxana Jullapat (WW Norton & Co, £ 30) to be released May 21st. Order your copy from to support the Guardian. Shipping costs may apply.

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