Kulish – Ukrainian Millet Stew

“Psychobbyist, are you nuts, what are you thinking? Millet is bird feed!” that is what’s probably going through your head right now. To this I reply, “Bacon!” Do I have your attention now?

It’s all right, i understand. Most westerners have never tasted millet, unless they are an organic store frequenting foodie that just itches to try that exotic yellow stuff. It’s very difficult to find millet in a typical grocery; we had to venture into a quite dangerous neighborhood and dodge some very bad drivers just to get some of that “bird feed”.

In fact, millet is one of those ancient superfood grains, just like quinoa. Nutritionists praise it for high magnesium content and for being gluten free. I am not a scientist, so I can’t claim that millet has any magical powers. I can, however, testify that it tastes damn good. It is also quite cheap. We found it for about $2 a pound which is a steal for such an exotic grain.

Millet in a bowl
Here is what millet looks like

When I was little, we used millet both to feed chicklets and to cook some quite hearty meals. One of them is Kulish, a traditional Ukrainian dish usually prepared over an open fire. Kozaks (Ukrainian mercenaries with anarchist tendencies) prepared it during their long marches to numerous battles. Of course, they mostly used just salted meat and millet, since those items were easy to haul around. My Kulish will be much “fancier”. It is definitely a modern version of the traditional recipe, so Ukrainians, please don’t kill me for not being 100% authentic.

Disclaimer: in no way is this dish healthy or lean, mostly due to high pork fat content. But to quote the famous Arby’s Red Hat, “Too much bacon, said no one ever!” (c). Ukrainians actually use salo – straight up pork fat, the white kind. This is a totally foreign concept for Americans. That stuff is super delicious though, once you get over the yuck factor. Just ask my husband. My suspicion is that this is why Americans adore bacon so much; they are just secretly in love with salo and don’t realize it yet.

Anyway, let’s get to the actual recipe. Here is what you’ll need to whip up about 8 servings of savory and hearty Ukrainian Kulish.

Millet, meat, bacon, onions, carrots, potatoes
Mandatory pics of all the ingredients in a handy collage
  • 1/2 lb of millet
  • 1/2 lb of bacon (the fattier the better)
  • A pound of pork loin or stew meat
  • 2 onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 potatoes (optional)
  • 2 cups of water
  • A bay leaf
  • Salt, pepper and garlic to taste

*Edit: Sorry, I messed up the meat quantities. You need a pound of bacon and two pounds of pork. However, it’s not an exact science, you know 😉

    Cut up your bacon in roughly 3×3 squares and toss it in a big pot. Fry it up real good but don’t drain the fat. Once the bacon is nice and almost cooked, add the meat cut up in stew-sized chunks. Brown the meat until it’s about half done. Add the diced onions and carrots and wait for the vegetables to cook down a bit. In the meantime, rinse your millet a few times (at least 3). Ukrainians have some kind of a superstition about rinsing it 7 times but I find it a bit excessive.

    Stir your pot a bit and add two cups of water. Cut up your potatoes like you would for stew and toss them in. Next comes your rinsed millet. Now give the pot another stir, bring it to a boil and close the lid. This concoction will have to simmer for at least 20 minutes. Don’t forget to give it a stir from time to time.

    Don’t worry if your Kulish looks a bit watery at this point. The millet will eventually absorb all of the excess water and give your Kulish the right consistency.

    Once your 20 minutes have passed, carefully taste the millet. It shouldn’t have any crunch to it. If it does, leave it in the pot for another 5 minutes or so with the lid closed.

    At this point you should be ready to taste your Kulish! It smells amazing. Be careful though, it tends to “expand” in your belly so seconds will not be needed. No wonder this hearty concoction managed to feed many full grown muscular men after a long march!

    Kulish in a bowl
    Kulish done!

    I have not tried making Kulish over an open fire, but I’m sure that would make it even more awesome.

    I hope you enjoy your Ukrainian millet stew!

     

     

     

     

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