You may have decided that quinoa is ‘soooo 2016.’ Yes, it’s a healthful grain from Peru that was all the rage a few years ago, and rightfully so. It’s versatile, nutritious and contains twice the protein of white rice, and it’s gluten free.
If you really want to be on the cutting edge when it comes to grains, try fonio. It’s an ancient grain that’s been cultivated in West Africa for thousands of years. The plant itself is extremely drought-tolerant and sustainable. With grains the color and texture of fine sand, it’s known as ‘The Seed of the Universe, the grain at the root of all existence.’ A one-half cup (cooked) serving provides 170 calories, 4 gm of fiber, 2 gm of protein, is a good source of iron and is high in amino acids such as methionine and cystine. According to Healthline, methionine can help with growth and repair of the body’s tissues, while cystine assists with the body’s natural detoxification processes.
Fonio is quick-cooking (like cous-cous), nutty tasting and versatile. It’s served as a side dish with vegetables, as a porridge with fresh fruit, in salads, like tabouleh, and even in baking. It’s the next culinary darling among foodies in big cities in the West.
It’s interesting to note that, despite its cultural and culinary heritage in West Africa—Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Guinea and Gambia– fonio is considered a neglected and under-utilized crop species (NUCS). Sometimes referred to as “lost crops,” or “orphan crops,” NUCSs are utilized poorly and largely grown by smallholder farms. However, the word is out of fonio’s potential as a priority crop for West Africa due to its nutritional and environmental characteristics, as well as its potential to diversify diets in areas of the world with food insecurity. It’s now making its way to specialty food aisles and stores across the world while becoming an important source of income for small West African farmers.
A couple of caveats: First, fonio is not easy to find in stores, unless you live in an area with a large West African diaspora. However, it’s easy to find it online. Second, is that it’s expensive—3-10 oz. bags will cost about $20.00. It’s less expensive per ounce if you go for the 6-10oz. bags. But keep in mind that this grain is grown by subsistence farmers, usually women. Your purchase puts money in their communities that otherwise would be without. It makes their efforts more worthwhile.
Try these delicious and quick-cooking recipes featuring fonio. You’ll be hooked!
Fonio is an excellent vehicle for aromatics and spices. It’s a side dish that could steal the show, and considering the protein quotient, which is bolstered by chickpeas and pistachios or peanuts, it’s almost a one-pot meal all by itself. Add green peas, red bell peppers, or even dark, chewy raisins for color and flavor contrast.
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1 cup fonio
3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 tsp. butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tsp. curry powder or garam masala spice blend
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. sea salt
1 (14-Ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup roasted, unsalted pistachios (or peanuts), roughly chopped
1. In a medium saucepan, coat the fonio with 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and let stand for 4 – 5 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Add butter, fluff with a fork and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, warm the rest of the olive oil in a medium skillet set over moderate heat. When simmering, add the onion. Sauté until translucent and aromatic; about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté about 30 seconds to one minute. Sprinkle in the curry powder, cayenne, and salt, stirring to combine. Add the chickpeas and cook for 2 minutes longer.
3. Toss the hot vegetable mixture together with the cooked fonio in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly to incorporate. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon, top with chopped pistachios (or chopped peanuts) and serve hot.
Whip up a quick nutritious breakfast with fonio. It tastes somewhat like cream of wheat, only it cooks faster and offers more FoodTrients.
¼ cup walnuts, halves and pieces
¼ cup almonds, sliced or slivered
2 cups water
1 cup fonio
4 dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup low fat milk
½ cup raisins
½ cup fresh blueberries
½ cup sliced fresh strawberries
6 Tbs. low fat milk
6 tsp. ground cinnamon
1. Toast walnuts and almonds in a skillet over medium-low heat, 4-to-5 minutes. Take care not to burn the nuts.
2. Pour water and fonio into a medium saucepan. Stir to eliminate any lumps. Add dates. Bring to a low boil, stirring often while crushing the date pieces. Reduce heat to a simmer when dates begin to soften. Add 1 cup milk and the raisins. Continue to simmer, stirring often, until fonio absorbs all the liquid, about 8 minutes.
3. Divide the porridge into 6 bowls. Serve topped with equal amounts of toasted nuts, blueberries, strawberries, 1 tsp. each of cinnamon and 1 Tbs. each milk.
Sweet Potato Tacos Addis Ababa
Here’s a delicious, exotic take on ever-popular tacos. The dish is named for the capital of Ethiopia.
Makes about 6 tacos
1 medium sweet potato (about 2 cups diced)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. berbere spice blend (see below)
1 Tbs. avocado oil
3 green onions, white and green parts minced
½ cup fonio
2 cups water
3 Tbs. tomato paste
1 ½ tsp. berbere spice*
6 small flour tortillas
1 red onion, cut into thin slices lengthwise
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
Mint Yogurt Sauce
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbs. lemon juice
¼ tsp. sea salt
3–4 fresh mint leaves, finely minced
Combine all the taco ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, toss the diced sweet potato and chickpeas with the honey, olive oil and berbere spice. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are soft.
3. Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the green onions and sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until just soft.
4. Add the fonio, water, tomato paste, and berbere spice. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to low-medium and cook for 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and let it sit 3-5 minutes, the fonio will absorb the remaining water. Fluff with a fork.
5. Fill each tortilla with about 1/3 cup of fonio and top with the sweet potato and chickpeas. Place the tacos in a large baking dish and bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degrees F oven. When done, drizzle with the mint yogurt sauce and top with the red onion, berbere spice and fresh cilantro just before serving.
NOTE: You can always add a little more fun to your tacos if you garnish with black beans, corn and red peppers.
*NOTE: You can purchase berbere spice online or at specialty African or Middle Eastern markets. To make your own berbere spice blend, mix together:
3 Tbs. ground chili
3 Tbs. smoked paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. each:
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cumin
Store in an air-tight glass container.