I was in an international grocery store recently and saw a grain I was unfamiliar with. As I’m interested in trying new species, I purchased it and took it home to figure out exactly what I had acquired. The names given on the bag were “samo seeds,” vrat ka chaval and “jungle rice.” With a little bit of research, I was able to ascertain that these names referred to a grass in the genus Echinochloa, native to South Asia, and have now added it to my edible plant life list.
The seeds I purchased have been variously classified botanically as Echinochloa frumentacea or Echinochloa colona. The name E. frumentacea is applied to domesticated forms of this plant, and E. colona to the wild, weedy forms. Wild forms are sometimes harvested for their edible grains, and cultivation of the domesticated forms occurs on a very limited scale. Recent research suggests that there is no good reason to treat these as separate species; wild and domesticated forms may both be treated as E. colona.
As indicated by the three names presented on the bag I purchased, there really isn’t a single widely used common name for this plant. Related plants grown for their edible seeds are often known as “millet,” but there are some dozen plants that go by that name. In India, where more than 30 languages have a million or more native speakers, there are common names for E. colona in each of the languages. One of the more commonly used names in India is moraiyo, and with this common name in hand, I found several recipes online.
A dish called moraiyo khichdi is one of the most popular ways to prepare this grain. This dish is especially popular during Hindu days of fasting, when rice is abstained from for religious reasons. There are numerous recipes for moraiyo khichdi online. The version I prepared (see below) follows the recipe found here.
|1 cup||Moraiyo/samo (E. colona) seed|
|1 tsp||Curry powder|
|1/2 tsp||Red pepper|
|1||Green chili pepper (e.g. Serrano), finely chopped|
|2||Small potatoes, finely chopped|
|1 tsp||Ginger, freshly grated|
|1||Tomato, finely chopped|
|Salt to taste|
*Many Indian recipes (including this one) begin by infusing spices in heated oil. Ghee has a higher smoke point than most other oils, so is ideal for this step. Other cooking oils may be used, but should be watched carefully so they don’t smoke.