Monday, 19 August 2013

Holubsti of Spinach Leaves and Millet Голубці-просо з шпінатом

With all the trends in nutrition heading away from gluten and dairy, I have been trying a new diet lately. Eliminating the "wheat belly" and the dairy issues isn't easy in the North American diet, much less the Ukrainian North American diet.  But I try.  It seem though that these particular ingredients aren't traditional offenders in the ancient Ukrainian diet.  The wheat grown on the Ukrainian steppes was a short stock wheat, with few kernels, nurtured as it was over the centuries to produce multiple seeds.  Today's North American wheat can be considered "Franken-wheat" because the plant itself is now twice in height and produces many-times the 'seeds per stock'.  Genetically modified, it has also acquired multiple times the gluten, too. Gluten is the elastic property that allows dough to be shaped into loaves, rolled into buns, and gives it a sensuous feeling on the tongue.  

So if wheat is a non starter for those cautious of the "wheat belly", what can the ancients teach us?  Well, the traditional Ukrainian diet included a variety of grains, seeds of the soil that provided quality nutrition at a budget price.  One of them is millet, просо.  And millet is on the "gluten free" list!
Freshly rolled spinach/millet holubtsi.

Today sold as a health food, due to its lack of gluten and therefore of benefit to those whose diets cannot tolerate wheat, panicum miliaceum is a wild ancestor that appears as a crop on the north eastern shores of the Black Sea about 7,000 years ago. With fertile plains, steppes and plateaus, the subtropical climate enjoyed by the indigenous people of the Trypillian Трипілля culture (4500 to 2000 BC) was well adapted for the proso, просо, an annual grass with the lowest water requirement of any major cereal, excellent for dry land or no-till farming.   Proso-millet is a cereal crop rich in nutrients, cultivated in many regions of the world, including ancient Ukraine. The small, cream-coloured grains with a small dot-like mark, used as food source and fodder, is believed to be one of the oldest foods used throughout the ages. An important food staple in Ukraine, today millet is used in bird seed, and my grandparents used it to feed the chickens on the farm north of Edmonton. Millets are high in carbohydrates, somewhat strong in taste, and cannot be made in leavened breads. They can, however, be made into flatbreads and porridges, and used much like rice. 

Come to think of it, though Ukrainian lands may have played a huge role in the important Silk Road trade routes, connecting Arabia, Europe, and Asia all those centuries ago, the common folk, the indigenous people probably didn't import rice for holubtsi, they used stuff like millet!

So today I looked at my generous crop of spinach and decided to try Ukrainian  Голубці holubtsi, but with spinach leaves and millet. I took 1 1/2 cups of millet cereal, 3 cups water, and cooked on high in the microwave for 15 minutes, almost to porridge state. I fried up about a half cup of finely chopped onion and a few finely chopped mushrooms in oil and a bit of butter.  I scalded the fresh spinach leaves to wilt them, then began rolling my holubtsi (bundles of joy!) into an oiled, prepared, short casserole dish.  A teaspoon of filling, and a tight small roll of spinach leaf, followed with more soldiers lined up like little green presents in my casserole dish.  

Then I fried up more onion in oil and butter, added a bit of home-made chicken broth, added a bit of crushed dried mushroom, salt and pepper, and a bit of fresh dill.  When that was prepared I poured the juice over the rolls, just until the liquid peeked over them.  Covered with foil, and baked for an hour at 325 F. "Delicious", my husband raved about the lovely spinach/millet holubtsi
. I think next time there could be a cream sauce, but that might involve dairy. We'll see! 


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