Fee, Fi, Fo, Fonio

Move over, quinoa; there’s a new ancient grain in town. Protein-rich, gluten-free, and quick-cooking, fonio is the best kept secret in wholesome superfoods. Though little known in the western world, this African staple has all the makings of the next big healthy craze.

Neutral yet subtly nutty in flavor like good old brown rice, fluffy like fresh couscous, and faster to whip up than a pot of pasta, the only barrier to mainstream adoration is distribution. Though the supply chain is especially stressed by the current pandemic, fonio has long suffered from inaccessibility. No one’s out there flying the fonio flag, demanding more, so most consumers and home cooks simply don’t know what they’re missing. They say ignorance is bliss, but this is more akin to an act of negligence, cruel and careless.

Uses for fonio know no limits. Receptive to marinades and sauces the world over, it thirstily drinks in the flavors of a stew while retaining toothsome tenderness. Use it cold in salad; serve it hot as a side; form it into patties and pan fry; blend it into batters, cakes, and cookies; don’t even bother cooking it, and use it instead of breadcrumbs; the only way you can do fonio wrong is to keep it off the menu.

For basic cookery, all you need is 1 part fonio to 2 parts boiling water. Combine and let rest for about 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and enjoy. You don’t need a stove, a microwave, or even electricity; it’s really that simple. Your hard work will be rewarded with a nutritional dynamo, rich in B-vitamins, iron, and calcium.

That said, there’s no need to stick with the bare basics, of course.

Golden grains spring to life with savory aromatics and a touch of spice. It’s the kind of side dish that could very well steal the show, and considering the protein quotient, which is bolstered by tender chickpeas, it’s not a stretch to call it a one-pot meal all by itself. Kernels of corn enhance the sunny yellow appearance, but a bit of contrast would be a nice option, be it from green peas, red bell peppers, or even dark, chewy raisins.

Oh, little fonio, this is just the start. There are big things in store for this tiny grain. Just wait until the rest of the world catches on. Quinoa had better watch its back.

Yield: Makes 4 - 6 Servings

Fonio Pilaf

Fonio Pilaf

Golden fonio springs to life with savory aromatics and a touch of spice. It's the kind of side dish that could very well steal the show, and considering the protein quotient, which is bolstered by tender chickpeas, you it's not a stretch to call it a one-pot meal all by itself. Kernels of corn enhance the sunny yellow appearance, but a bit of contrast would be a nice change of pace, be it from green peas, red bell peppers, or even dark, chewy raisins.

Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 12 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Cup Fonio
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion, Diced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 (14-Ounce) Can Chickpeas, Drained
  • 1 Cup Fresh, Canned and Drained, or Frozen and Thawed Corn Kernels
  • 2/3 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts, Roughly Chopped

Instructions

    1. In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil over medium heat. Add the fonio, cover, and turn off the heat. Let stand for 4 - 5 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
    2. Meanwhile, warm the oil in a medium skillet set over moderate heat. When shimmering, add the onion, garlic. Saute until translucent and aromatic; about 4 - 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the turmeric, cumin, cayenne, and salt, stirring to combine. Add the chickpeas and corn, cooking for 2 minutes longer.
    3. Toss the hot vegetable mixture together with the cooked fonio in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly to incorporate. Top with chopped peanuts and serve hot.

Notes

In a pinch, plain couscous can be substituted for the fonio.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 257Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 145mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 5gSugar: 5gProtein: 9g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.

15 thoughts on “Fee, Fi, Fo, Fonio

  1. Thank you for introducing us to a new ancient grain! Can’t wait to give this one a try. Have not seen it in the stores yet but I am sure it will be catching on soon, once the restocking happens. Looks so light and fluffy but yet nutty.

  2. I came across fonio recently when researching GF alternatives to couscous. Do you know if I replace the couscous 1:1 for fonio?

  3. So I just made this. The reason you need a large bowl to mix the vegetables and fonio is because 1 cup of fonio is a lot of fonio. Indeed by the time everything was mixed it seemed like there was barely any onion, chick pea, corn, nuts (I used cashews because I’m clearing out the freezer and they were there). Also, most rice pilaf recipes have a lot more than a couple of tablespoons of fat in them for this quantity of food. The finished product here was rather on the dry side and I drizzled more olive oil on it in the bowl. I have a large supply of fonio so I’ll probably do this again, but I’m thinking halve the fonio and triple the olive oil. Perhaps work in a bit more onion and some of the other suggested additions as well–peppers or raisins.

    I can’t speak very well to the seasonings because I didn’t quite follow the directions. I omitted salt because the chicken broth I used was not low sodium. This was a mistake. I’ll add a little salt to the leftovers. As for the rest of the spices, this wasn’t quite as flavorful as I had anticipated. I might ditch the smoked paprika and use a larger amount of ordinary paprika. Perhaps add a little cinnamon? Perhaps just halving the fonio would be sufficient to boost seasoning without much other adjustment. We’ll see.

    1. I really appreciate your thorough account, and unique exploration of this recipe! I’m sure it will help others figuring out how to use fonio too. I hope you can fine-tune it to perfection for the next round. :)

  4. 1 cup dry yields 4 cups cooked (ratio Fonio 1: Liquid 2 = 4 cups cooked fonio). I would think “andthusicomment” is probably right, it needs greater amounts of the seasonings–especially in light of the addition of the chickpeas and Corn. When I try this recipe I will use the recipe’s spice measurements and taste it to verify and add more if needed before serving.
    I found it interesting that the directions do not mention the paprika being added in–is it mixed in or sprinkled on when served?

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