Millet, Red Lentil, and Potato Cakes

Millet, Red Lentil, and Potato Cakes

This text and recipe is posted with permission from Vegetable Kingdom written by Bryant Terry. Photo credit: Ed Anderson.

Terry pairs each recipe with a soundtrack, with the playlist inextricably linked to the recipe. See his recommendation for this recipe below.

From the author:

In August 2017, Mitchell Davis, chief strategy officer of the James Beard Foundation, asked me to help curate the menu (along with chefs Dan Barber and Mary Sue Milliken) for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Global Goals Awards ceremony. The awards recognize outstanding activists and campaign groups who have made a demonstrable positive impact and who inspire others to accelerate progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (there are seventeen of them).

Our menu and accompanying narrative were crafted with an eye toward Sustainable Development Goal #2: to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. I created an entrée using millet—a crop that could play an important role tackling hunger in exploited/developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa because of its high nutritional value and ability to grow with very little water. The meal was fantastic, and my dish was a big hit. That November, the New York Times published my millet cake recipe in an article on Black vegans. The next month, New York Times food editor Sam Sifton included it on his Best Recipes of 2017 list. To really make this dish pop, you should eat it with something acidic, like Pikliz or Pickled Mustard Greens (both from the cookbook).

(Oaktown notes: Terry provides recipes for making your own spice blends throughout his cookbook; we think our Berbere is a great stand-in for the homemade version. It's ground and blended fresh in small batches.

Also, you'll want to chill the millet cakes for at least two hours or up to 2 days before broiling, so you might want to prepare them ahead of time.)

Millet, Red Lentil, and Potato Cakes

Serves 4


1 russet potato, scrubbed
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1/2 cup millet, rinsed
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1/2 cup red lentils, picked through and rinsed
2 tablespoons peanut oil or safflower oil
3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 3/4 teaspoons Berbere Spice Blend (see below)
2 tablespoons millet flour
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs, pan-toasted in 1 tablespoon peanut or olive oil
4 ounces butter lettuce (1 medium head), leaves separated
Smoky-Spicy Green Sauce (from the cookbook), for dressing the lettuce and serving
Toasted benne seeds or brown sesame seeds, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F. With a fork, pierce the potato all over, then wrap it in aluminum foil. Bake until tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Set aside to cool. When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel it, transfer the flesh to a bowl, and thoroughly mash with a fork. Transfer 1/2 cup of the mashed potato to a medium bowl and set aside (reserve the rest for another use).

While the potato is cooking, in a small bowl, whisk together the flaxseeds and 6 tablespoons water with a fork. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes, until thickened.

In a small saucepan, toast the millet over medium heat, shaking the pan often to ensure even cooking, until the millet smells fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, raise the heat to high, and bring the water to a boil. Immediately decrease the heat to low, cover, and cook until the water has evaporated, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered, to steam until ready to use.

While the millet is cooking, in a small saucepan, combine the lentils and 11/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, decrease the heat to low, skim off any foam, cover, and simmer until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. The lentils should be soft but not falling apart, with a little bite remaining. Stir in a generous pinch of salt. Set aside, uncovered, to cool.

In a medium skillet, warm the peanut oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté, stirring often, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until it starts to smell fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the berbere spice blend and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring, until the onion and garlic are thoroughly coated with the spices, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the onion mixture to the bowl with the mashed potato. With a wooden spoon, stir in the millet, lentils, millet flour, and the flax mixture until thoroughly combined. Season with salt.

With clean hands, form the mixture into 9 cakes, using about 5 heaping tablespoons of the mixture per cake. Transfer to a glass baking dish, using parchment paper to separate the layers. Cover and refrigerate the cakes for 2 hours or up to 2 days before broiling.

Position an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler heat element and preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the toasted panko in a shallow dish and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Gently place each cake in the panko, coating both sides and shaking off any excess crumbs. Set the breaded cakes on the prepared baking sheet.

Broil the cakes until the panko is starting to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, gently flip each cake with a spatula, and broil for 2 to 3 minutes more, until starting to brown on the second side.

In a bowl, gently toss the lettuce with enough spicy green sauce to lightly coat. To serve, stack the lettuce on a large platter and sprinkle generously with benne seeds. Arrange the cakes on the platter and serve family-style, with small bowls of spicy green sauce and pikliz alongside.

“Party Isn’t Over/Campfire/Bimmer” by Tyler, The Creator (feat. Laetitia Sadier, Frank Ocean)

Berbere spice blend

Makes about 1/2 cup


6 cardamom pods
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon allspice berries, toasted
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 whole cloves
1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed and broken into pieces
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a medium cast-iron skillet, toast the cardamom pods over medium-low heat, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent burning, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the pods to a small plate and set aside to cool. Once cooled, crack open the pods with your fingers and transfer the seeds within to a mortar or spice grinder (discard the pods). Add the remaining ingredients and grind into a fine powder. Transfer to a jar and seal tightly. Store at room temperature for up to 1 month.

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