Imagine a perfect grain that’s gluten-free, cooks in a few minutes, and is just as tasty and versatile as oats, rice, or quinoa.
Say hello to fonio (aka acha or fundi), an ancient grain that has nourished people across West Africa for 5,000 years. Pierre Thiam, a Senegalese chef, author, and New York restaurateur at Teranga, grew up on the African staple. Now, his company Yolélé is bringing it to American kitchens (all the while supporting farmers).
“If you look at the grains you eat, it’s usually either rice, soy, corn, or wheat,” Thiam says. “Fonio is much more nutritious and better for the planet.” Grown in countries like Senegal, Nigeria, and Mali, the millet grass thrives in poor soil and requires very little water. Besides protein and iron, it also delivers amino acids cysteine, which supports hair growth, and methionine, an antioxidant that can help with detoxification, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Best of all, fonio welcomes all kinds of flavors. In Senegal, it’s traditionally topped with peanut sauce or mixed into a shrimp and okra stew. But in The Fonio Cookbook, Thiam shows off the ingredient’s versatility in dishes like tabbouleh, seafood paella, and even banana pancakes. Here are a few more recipes that’ll make you want to try it for yourself.
For Breakfast, Try Hot Creamy Fonio
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup uncooked fonio
2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup raisins
2 cups almond milk
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup of your favorite nuts, chopped and toasted (optional)
½ fresh mango, chopped
½ cup fresh blueberries
1 banana, sliced
To prepare the fonio, place in a large heavy saucepan. Add water and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add dried cranberries, raisins, almond milk (or other milk) in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir in brown sugar, mango, and cinnamon.
Toast your chopped nuts if using, in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring to keep them from burning, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 to 4 minutes.
Sprinkle with toasted nuts, blueberries, and banana and serve.
For Lunch, Try Fonio Veggie Sliders
Serves 6 to 8
½ cup Maya Kaimal Organic Everyday Dal (black lentil, tomato, and cumin)
1 ½ cups cooked fonio
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato (homemade or canned)
2 ½ tablespoons flaxseed meal
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Burger buns (or lettuce wraps)
Toppings of your choice: sliced onion, tomato, pickles, sprouts, cheese, avocado, mayo, etc.
In a large bowl combine dal, cooked fonio, flaxseed meal, cooked sweet potato and salt, and pepper. Mix until well combined, cover, and let rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
Form six patties, about 2-3 inches wide in the palm of your hand, and set on a plate. In a large pan, heat oil on med-high and cook patties until golden brown, 3-5 minutes on each side. Compose burgers however you like and serve!
For Dinner, Try Curried Fonio Rice Pilaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups onions, finely chopped
2 cups diced sweet potatoes (about 1 potato) in ¼ to ½” dice
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons curry powder
1-½ teaspoons fresh grated ginger root
1 can chickpeas, strained and rinsed
4 cups cooked fonio
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch mint, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Add the oil to a large saucepan and place it on the stove over medium heat. Add the onions, sweet potato, and salt. Mix well.
Add the curry powder and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently so the onions don’t burn. Turn heat down to medium-low; add ginger and chickpeas. Mix well. Add more oil if the mixture seems dry, and continue to cook for 2 to 4 minutes more.
Gently fold in the cooked fonio. Remove the mixture from the heat, and transfer to a bowl. Allow to cool. Just before serving, mix in pomegranate seeds, parsley, mint, and lemon juice, stirring lightly to combine the flavors.
For Dessert, Try Dark Chocolate Fonio Brownies
Makes 16 brownies
½ teaspoon olive oil
½ cup dry fonio on plus 1 cup of water for cooking
1 cup water
¾ teaspoon salt
2-½ ounces 92% chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons oil (corn, vegetable, or coconut)
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-½ cups sugar
½ to ¾ cup sorghum flour
6 ounces 80% chocolate, chopped into ¼-inch chunks
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prepare a 12” baking dish by greasing it with neutral oil or butter.
In a pot with a fitted lid, coat the cup of fonio well with a teaspoon of oil. Turn heat to high, add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Add salt and storage. Cover and turn to low heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, keep covered, and let rest for 4 minutes.
Remove the lid and whisk in 92% dark chocolate so it melts. If the mixture seems dry and pasty, add up to ¼ cup of water. Transfer mixture into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in butter, oil, egg, egg yolks, and vanilla. Mix until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar and sorghum flour. Add to wet ingredients and mix well. Fold in chocolate chunks.
Transfer to a greased baking dish and bake for 30 to 38 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.