We’re here to declare that it’s time to make room in your temple of wellness for a little-known superfood: fonio. The gluten-free grain is the tiniest member of the millet family. It’s rich in minerals and essential amino acids, a good source of protein and its insoluble fiber aids in digestion.
Fonio cooks up as easily as a pot of rice and the fluffy, nutty grains (it’s couscous-like in appearance) are easy to incorporate into any meal of the day. We’re using it as an alternative to oatmeal in the morning with a swirl of almond milk and hemp seeds, and pairing it with roasted butternut squash and greens for a desk-side lunch. Fonio can also be ground into flour for gluten-free baking exploits and even used to brew beer.
Not only is fonio a superfood, but also it’s a boon to farmers: the crop is drought-resistant, is adaptable to arid climates (like sub-Saharan Africa) and be can grown in poor soil without the use of any pesticides.
Atacora Essential Inc. specializes in sourcing Fair Trade products directly from West Africa without any middlemen and they are one of the first suppliers of fonio in the US ($13 for 1 lb.).
One of the best ways to get cozy with fonio is to pick up a copy of Pierre Thiam’s new book, Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl ($35).
The Brooklyn-based chef dives into his native country’s multifaceted cuisine with plenty of recipes for fonio, including a super-easy mango and fonio salad.
Think of it as your primer for Fonio 101.
This recipe is from Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl by Pierre Thiam and Jennifer Sit (Lake Isle Press).
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 cups cooked fonio or quinoa
- 1 bunch parsley, leaves finely chopped
- 1 bunch mint, leaves finely chopped
- 1 ripe mango—peeled, pitted and diced
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup red and yellow grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 small cucumber, seeded and diced
- ½ cup cashews
- To cook fonio: Wash 1 cup fonio grains by submerging in warm water, swishing the grains around with your fingers, then pouring out and replacing the water several times until it runs clear. Drain well.
- Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium pot. Stir in the cleaned raw fonio and 1 tablespoon of salt, cover tightly with the lid, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the water is just absorbed.
- Turn off the heat and gently fluff with a fork, making sure you fluff the bottom where it’s wetter.
- Cover again for another 5 to 10 minutes, until tender.
- To assemble: In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice with the salt and pepper.
- Slowly pour in the oil, whisking to emulsify.
- Place the fonio in a large bowl and add the parsley, mint, mango, onion, tomatoes and cucumber.
- Toss well and generously fold in the vinaigrette to taste. (You may have some left over.)
- Top with the spiced cashews (if using) and serve immediately.