Until recently, I had never seen sorghum grain in my life. I only became familiar with sorghum molasses a couple of years ago, when I encountered it on a trip through the South. But sorghum, as I learned, has been around for a long, long time.
Sorghum has been known by other names, the most common of which are “Guinea corn, “Johnson grass,” and “milo.” “Egyptian millet” and “great millet” have also been used, which is understandable, since the grain does look like millet on steroids. I’ve purchased sorghum flour in my favorite Indian market, Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, where it’s called marathi.
The oldest documented cultivation of sorghum is dated at 3000 B.C. in Egypt. Sorghum thrives in hot, arid climates, where other crops might fail. That could be the reason why it became such an important crop in the Near and Middle East. The Muslims introduced it to Spain, who then introduced it to France, and from there, it spread out to other parts of Europe. Sorghum is an important crop in Africa, and it is believed that it was introduced into the U.S. by African slaves in the early 17th century. According to Grain.org, sorghum is the third most important cereal crop grown in the U.S. and the fifth most important in the world. The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of sorghum.
Sorghum became a particularly popular product in the U.S. South, where sorghum molasses is a common substitute for maple syrup and is spread on biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, and—as I found out in Alabama—THROWED ROLLS.
Aside from food, sorghum is commonly included in animal feed, and it is used in the production of alcoholic beverages, such as maotai and kaoliang in China and beer in the U.S., such as Bard’s and Redbridge by Anheuser-Busch. In southern Africa, sorghum beer is popular and is said to be a traditional beverage of the Zulu people. Also, people in South Africa used sorghum beer to get around the prohibition laws imposed on the black community. And since sorghum is a gluten-free grain, sorghum beer is a great choice for those with gluten sensitivities. (If you’re so inclined, you can brew your own sorghum beer. Here are a set of instructions.)
As far as nutrients go, sorghum is rich in potassium, phosphorus, thiamine, and niacin, has some calcium, and has small amounts of iron and riboflavin.
When cooking with sorghum, it’s best to use “moist” recipes—that is, recipes that call for moist ingredients or a good amount of liquid—because the grains are thick and starchy and if they’re too dry, they can have a pasty mouthfeel and be difficult to swallow. And it’s best to serve sorghum hot (or at least warm) because as it cools, the starchiness becomes prominent.
While sorghum might be easy to find in the South, not so much in the Northeast. However, I did, by chance, find some at an Asian market. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was and, of course, I had to buy some. I did a little research on the best ways to use sorghum and came up with this recipe. Enjoy!
Sorghum and Kale Saute with Cannellini
1 cup sorghum grain
2 cups vegetable broth
4 cups chopped kale
1 ½ cups cooked cannellini
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp paprika
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
2. Rinse and drain the sorghum. Place in a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot or Dutch oven and stir over medium-low heat until dry and slightly browned.
3. Carefully pour in the vegetable stock and a pinch of salt. Stir and place in the oven; bake until liquid is absorbed and grains are tender, about 40 to 50 minutes. If necessary, add a little more liquid to the pot.
4. Heat oil in a wide pan. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, sprinkle in paprika and red papper flakes and immediately put in the kale. Add salt and pepper and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until kale is wilted and tender (but not mushy. Add the sorghum and beans and mix well. Cook for 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add more liquid if necessary.
5. Check for seasoning and serve hot.