Versatile sorghum plays a tasty role in sweet and spicy dishes
If things get a little tricky here, it’s because it’s Arkansas sorghum harvest time.
On Saturday, the Heritage House Museum in Mount Ida will celebrate all that is rich, gooey and sweet at its 12th annual Sorghum Festival. There will be a working grain mill, sorghum tasting, fresh sorghum treats, and other events during the free festival, which starts at 8 a.m. at the museum, 819 Luzerne St., Mount Ida.
In her 2017 book “An Ozark Culinary History: Northwest Arkansas Traditions From Corn Dodgers to Squirrel Meatloaf,” author Erin Rowe writes about the fall tradition of sorghum syrup making, back when many farmers maintained a patch of sorghum stalks, which are similar to sugar. cane, to provide an alternative to honey as a sweetener.
“People seemed to be looking forward to the time of year for sorghum production, usually September, as the fields were extensive but the big harvest was not in progress,” Rowe writes. “Most people were also out of sorghum, also known as molasses, at this time of year and happy to have more sweetener.”
But sorghum is more than the thick liquid gold that we apply to our hot, buttered cookies and pancakes. Sorghum grain and flour are also used in vegetable dishes, gluten-free options, baking, and more.
Sorghum, which can grow just about anywhere, has been a major food crop in Africa and other parts of the world for centuries, Rowe says.
In the United States, sorghum grain has not been a popular food choice until recently.
Sorghum syrup is made by boiling the juice of the sorghum plant in open vats. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Kelly Brant)
“A lot of people are gluten-free these days, so you see more and more people looking for alternative grains,” says Rowe, who runs food tours in the Ozarks.
“There are a lot of things you can do with sorghum. You can even pop it and add it to your trail mix as a crunchy treat. “
Rowe shared a few sorghum grain related recipes that are perfect for fall and winter. Although they’re both meatless, her bowl of spicy butternut squash and sorghum with pepitas and spicy sorghum chili is filling, filling and delicious.
My first foray into cooking with sorghum grain was the squash and sorghum bowl. One caveat: Although the recipe calls for boiling the grain for an hour until tender, mine never really got too soft or mushy. There is still some firmness to the grain and it has a pearly texture. I loved it, especially with the almost creamy squash, the crunchiness of the pepitas (don’t skip them for that matter) and the sweet and tangy dressing.
The chili was a revelation. Top it with cheese, tortilla chips and cilantro and it’s a satisfying, meat-free winter meal. It also lends itself to experimentation. I added some healthy dashes of red pepper for the heat; Instead of a Mexican seasoning mix, a chili seasoning pack might work just as well.
Friend and colleague Mike Simmons dropped by the day after making the chili and I sent a bowl home with him. He got it that night and texted me:
“I really enjoyed my supper. Very tasty indeed. My compliments to the chef.”
Both sweet recipes below call for good old sorghum syrup (also called sorghum molasses). Sorghum Pecan Pie isn’t overpowered by sweetness and the Sorghum Molasses Cookies turned out well, with crisp edges and a soft middle. Mine spread a bit on the sheet and a lot of them melded together. They wouldn’t have won me Star Baker on “The Great British Baking Show”, but they were pretty tasty.
Bowl of Butternut Squash and Spiced Sorghum with Pepitas
- 2 cups uncooked sorghum grains
- 4 cups vegetable broth (Rowe uses low sodium)
- ¾ cup of pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), halved lengthwise and seeded
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of orange juice
- 2 teaspoons of honey
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoons of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- ¾ cup chopped parsley
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sorghum, vegetable broth and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 60 minutes or until the grains are tender and open. Drain off any remaining liquid.
While the sorghum cooks, roast the nuggets and squash. Spread the pepitas in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside ½ cup of pepitas for the bowl and reserve the remaining ¼ cup for garnish.
Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Place squash on a large baking sheet and drizzle oil over flesh to cover and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool, then gently slice the softened skin and cut the squash into 1-inch cubes.
To prepare the dressing, combine 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sherry vinegar, orange juice, honey and shallot in a small bowl.
Pour the hot sorghum into a large serving bowl. Add the cumin, cinnamon and 1 ½ teaspoon of salt, stirring until the spices are completely combined. Place the squash, ½ cup of the pepitas and parsley over the sorghum, stirring well to combine. Top with dressing and remaining pepitas.
Makes 8 servings.
Recipe by Erin Rowe
Spicy Sorghum Pepper (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Kelly Brant)
Spicy sorghum chili
- 2 cups of dried black beans
- 1 ½ cup uncooked sorghum grains
- 4 cups of vegetable broth
- 3 celery ribs, diced
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup yellow corn, frozen or canned, drained
- 1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes, with juice
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons Mexican seasoning (can replace chili seasoning)
- Ground red pepper, to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Desired toppings such as tortilla chips, avocado slices, chopped cilantro or crushed tomatoes
Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with water and let soak for 8 to 12 hours. Drain, discard the soaking water and return the beans to the pot; add the dried sorghum, 4 cups of fresh water and 4 cups of vegetable broth. Mix well, cover and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Add celery, onion, garlic, bell pepper, corn, tomatoes, tomato paste and Mexican seasoning mix. Mix well, cover and simmer an additional 45 minutes or until the beans, sorghum and vegetables are tender. Add water as needed, should be a thick stew-like consistency. Season to taste with red pepper, salt and black pepper. Serve hot, garnished as you wish.
Makes about 10 servings.
Recipe adapted from Erin Rowe
Sorghum Pecan Pie (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Sean Clancy)
Sorghum and pecan pie
- 2 cups raw pecan halves, divided use
- 1 pie shell
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup of sorghum syrup
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
Spread 1 cup of pecans on a baking sheet and toast at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Chop and put in the pie crust. Reserve the rest of the pecans to decorate the top of the pie.
For the garnish, whisk together the sugar, salt, eggs, sorghum and corn syrup. Stir in the melted butter and let the filling sit for 20 minutes.
Reserve 1 cup of the filling and pour the rest over the chopped inshell pecans. Toss remaining cup of pecans with reserved filling until coated, then arrange on top of pie.
Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, until the filling is set but a little shaky.
Adapted from “Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution” by Roxana Jullapat
Sorghum Molasses Cookies (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Kelly Brant)
Sorghum Molasses Cookies
- 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- ¼ cup of sorghum syrup
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon of cream of tartar
- 2 cups of flour (see note)
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Granulated sugar, to roll
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and mix for 1 minute; add the oil and sorghum syrup and mix for 1 more minute then add the salt, baking soda, cream of tartar, flour and spices. Mix until a homogeneous paste is obtained. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Flatten into a disc with your hands, then wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to 2 days).
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide dough into equal portions, up to 2 ounces each. Shape each into a ball, roll the balls in granulated sugar and place them on the baking sheets at least 3 inches apart.
Bake until edges are set and centers are cracked, 12 to 14 minutes, turning baking sheets halfway through cooking.
Makes 14 very large cookies.
Note: We made them with whole wheat flour and sorghum flour. The sorghum-only batch spread a little more than the wheat flour batch, but both were good. A combination of flour would also work.
Adapted from “Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution, by Roxana Jullapat