Moroccan Millet & Butternut Squash Pilaf from The Pure Kitchen

One of the things I admire about my dad is that he speaks something like eight languages.  Having been born in Poland, he grew up in a milieu that encouraged multilingualism simply because of its promximity to so many other countries.  Later, he lived in Russia and adopted their tongue; then he moved to Canada where he acquired English; and subsequently opened a butcher shop* in a multicultural Montreal neighborhood where he picked up French, Italian and Greek.

Makes me feel rather limited with my paltry English, French and reading knowledge of German (but let’s not forget that I once memorized Beowulf in its entirety, in the original Old English).  The feeling is compounded every time I glance down the hallways of the college where I teach and see students who hail from virtually every country on the planet.  The ambient noise as you stroll from classroom to cafeteria could rival that at the original construction site at Babel any day.

Despite not being able to speak many other languages, I do enjoy picking up other vocabularies. In fact, one way to deal with a narrow linguistic repertoire is to drop key words and phrases from other lexicons into your daily conversation.  Just say them with conviction, and everyone will think you know what they mean. For instance, I can vividly recall one fellow student in the PhD program when I was at U of T (let’s call him “A. Fected”) who’d constantly use words that sounded foreign, even though in retrospect, I’ve come to believe he had no idea what most of them meant.

Mr. Fected was over 6 feet tall, with greasy black hair that stood out in jagged points like an unruly cactus. His sweaters were always a tad too tight, the sleeves a tad too short, his ego a tad too inflated.  He’d saunter around the department with his trademark houndstooth woolen scarf tossed across his shoulders like Cinerella’s cape, blathering to anyone in earshot (which usually meant the poor secretary, who was too polite to kick him out of her office).

“Ah, now you see, Ricki, that blouse of yours is very outré,”  he’d pontificate, gesturing with long, bony fingers, the fingernails bitten jagged. “And did you read that excerpt from Foucault last week? Elicited a bit of schadenfreud, wouldn’t you say?  Then again, we are all revelers manqué in professor Drivel’s class, aren’t we? Well, you know what they say! In vino veritas! Capiche?

Eventually, I learned to just smile beningnly and move along. It took me years to realize that he had no idea what he was talking about, either.

I’ve found that the world of food not only allows for, but encourages appropriating terms from other languages,  many that contribute to the overall enjoyment and gratificaton of cooking.  For instance, don’t you love making a roux? To me, it sounds like a nickname (à la George Carlin‘s “doesn’t even belong on the list”): Oh, my leetle Roux, you are so cute!  I just want to pinch your leetle cheeks, my sweet Cabbage-Roux!  Come live with me, my Roux, and be my love. . . ” etc.  Or how about Jerry and George waxing enthusiastic over the word, “Salsa”?  Myself, I’ve always liked the word muesli, even though I don’t eat the stuff. Brings to mind a very smart person deep in thought: “Let me just muesli on it for a bit.” Then there’s chiffonade; sounds like something you’d wear to a very fancy dinner party. And al dente is much more appealing than “slightly undercooked,” isn’t it?

I could go on. . . .  (but lucky for you, I won’t).

Well, as of this week, pilaf has joined my list of favorite exotic culinary terms.

Used to be, the word pilaf brought to mind all things Parisian (or sang-froid, as the French themselves might say).  It reminded me of the upper-crust Français, the ones who have servants bringing their food to the table when summoned by a little bell. Maybe because it evokes thoughts of Edith Piaf, but the word pilaf sounds to me so very, very French, doesn’t it?  In reality, pilaf is nothing of the sort: it’s one of the homiest, most comforting and universally appealing dishes you could imagine. These days, pilafs are prepared with just about any array of ingredients and spices from countries all over the globe.

Last week, I cooked up a fabulous Moroccan-inspired millet and butternut squash pilaf from my friend Hallie’s new cookbook, The Pure Kitchen.  Are you acquainted with Hallie and her blog, Daily Bites?  At once formidable and adorable, Hallie is a powerhouse in a petite package.  She cooks up beautiful, healthy, natural foods that will appeal to pretty much everyone.  With the publication of her book, she’s stepped into the cookbook arena, and I think she’s poised to take that world by storm.

This recipe combines our quintessential autumn veggie, butternut squash, with a host of African spices and what I consider to be an underappreciated grain, millet. The only grain known to be alkalizing in the body (which is what you want for optimum balance and immunity), millet is neutral tasting and pairs well with almost anything, sweet or savory.

When I first mixed up the pilaf, I must admit I thought it might require more spice (we tend to like a lot of spice in the DDD household), but after cooking it up and having it for lunch, I found myself returning to the pot again and again for a little nosh, before I finally packed it up and froze the leftovers to prevent myself from consuming the entire batch.  It was perfect, just the way it was. I’d say the combination of creamy, sweet squash with the firm bite of the millet, the salty brine of the olives and the intermittently sweet and chewy raisins offers up a lovely and irresistible mix–for lunch, a holiday side dish, or any time.

And really, there’s nothing to match eating flavorful, satisfying, healthy food–in any language.  Capiche?

*If you haven’t read this before, yes, my dad owned a butcher shop, which means I grew up eating meat every day.  And yes, I now eat a vegan diet.  Irony, much? 😉

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I’m submitting this recipe to Allergy Friendly Fridays and Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

Last Year at this Time: Coco-Nut Shortbread Buttons (gluten free; ACD Stage 3 and beyond)

Two Years Ago: Apple and Red Wine Soup (gluten free; ACD Stage 2 and beyond)

Three Years Ago: Chocolate Pecan Pie (not gluten free; ACD maintenance only)

Four Years Ago: Home at Last [Dog Day]

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

[Disclaimer: this post may contain affiliate links. If you buy using these links, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission from the sale.]



  1. I am SO impressed that you could memorise Beowulf in it’s entirety! Not that I ever put conscious effort into it, but I couldn’t go beyond the first 12 lines or so from memory – just enough though to occasionally scare people when the need arises 🙂 Another beautiful recipe, as always! xx

    • Nadia, ha ha! It did take quite some time. I seem to recall reading it aloud onto a tape (we had cassette recorders back then), then falling asleep to my own voice reciting it. Mega Type A. 😉 Just don’t ask me to go beyond the first few words nowadays, though!

  2. What a delightful & appetizing alternative butternut pumpkin dish! I love every flavour in here.
    I think you could add the other spices to the pumpkin to roast in the oven for even more flavour! 🙂 MMMMMM,…!!!

  3. That sounds wonderful – I might add celery and a diced apple to it and declare it dinner (plus an extra serving for dessert).

  4. I love it! The post and the recipe. I can imagine your conversations with (or should I say monologues by) A. Fected. What a fascinating character. And the pilaf – c’est manifique! (I, too, wished, I was multilingual. I would love to speak Italian fluently.) Thanks, Ricki for the wonderful read and for introducing me to Hallie’s pilaf. Sounds like it would make a hearty breakfast.

    • Nancy, you’re so brilliant! I hadn’t thought about it for breakfast, but I am going to eat it that way now! 😉 And yes, Mr. Fected was quite the character. He was like the torturted artist that all the girls loved. . . I could never quite understand it!

  5. Thanks for such a great post, Ricki, and for sharing about TPK!! I love your enthusiasm for language. 🙂

  6. these are the types of recipes i loveee! a little sweet, a little savory, and a little salty. i definitely plan on making this for thanksgiving. thanks for the idea, ricki!

  7. Great recipe, I put it in my recipe book to try later.

    Is your dad still a butcher/meat-eater?

    • Thanks so much, Roxanne! No, my dad is no longer a butcher as he’s retired. He actually retired 25 years ago–he just turned 90 last summer! These days, he doesn’t eat much meat himself (though he is most definitely still an omnivore). 😉

  8. butternut squash and millet sounds fabulous together. i love the moroccan flavors!

  9. This confirms it, I need to get Hallie’s book : )

  10. Gorgeous in every way!

  11. You’re such a great writer. Love your posts. Your fabulous recipes are an added bonus 🙂 I love langs, I’m studying French and Spanish literature at uni. Words in general are just so fun…
    I’m relatively new to millet so am especially grateful for this one.

    • Emma, thank you so much! 😀 And congrats on the multi-lingual studies 😉 I think of millet as a milder form of quinoa (but with less protein). It isn’t quite as nutty–in fact, it’s very neutral in the way that rice is neutral–but the texture is like quinoa. I think it’s not used nearly enough! 🙂

  12. oh wow this sounds amazing! love the millet butternut combo, a perfect savory dish

  13. Thanks for sharing this fantastic Autumn recipe! I am trying to learn French myself 🙂

  14. Oh Ricki, when is your novel coming out? Or maybe it will be a biopic 🙂 Ricki Heller, famous blogger…
    Now the pilaf! I love how everyone is reviewing her book! Now I have an archive of the recipes I need to try. This is amazing!

    • Ha, ha! You are so funny, Maggie! 😉 I’ve seen some other fabulous reviews of Hallie’s book in the blogosphere, too. . . yes, it’s great!

  15. sounds lovely! And your tales of A. Fected had me giggling in recognition – I think he has an aussie cousin who was in some of my tutes – really intimidated me when a young fresher who didn’t think I knew anything!

    and your love of the word muesli made me laugh because it is far more commonplace here – but I always love the names of squash in America – kabocha, delicata and acorn!

    • Yep, I would not be surprised if Mr. Fected had “cousins” all over the world. They seem to be everywhere! And I was the same way–intimidated (if only I knew better back then). I hadn’t thought about the squash names, but they do sound exotic, don’t they?

  16. Talking about words and language…. I am a french girl, and when I say “spatula” it comes out as “spatchoola”, the emphasis on the u, don’t ask me why and I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s because I am french and the accent is always on the wrong syllable!… I really have to say it in my head before I try saying it outloud!

    • The word “spatula” always reminds me of a funny story about my friend Babe’s older sister. I think I need to put it on the blog! (Or maybe I already have. . . hard to remember, these days). 😉

  17. I love that there are currants and olives in this! Yum.

  18. I love Moroccan food soo much. I just wish my family would eat it 🙁
    Oh well- more leftovers for me! 😀

  19. That is one of the recipes I have ear-marked to make. It looks absolutely divine!

  20. i just made this as one of my prep meals for the week. It’s so tasty! I used all vegbroth and it turned out great! I love sweet and salty – yum!


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