BLOOMBERG – One thing you don’t hear about right now is a trendy new ingredient. They used to be a hallmark of an ambitious restaurant menu, but even as places reopen, the last thing chefs are thinking about is a product no one has heard of.
Luckily, fonio is not a new ingredient.
The West African grain that looks like fine, granulated brown sugar with a wonderfully toasted, nutty taste dates back more than 5,000 years. It’s not new to people who track United States (US) foods news. A couple years ago, fonio made headlines as a climate-resistant “supergrain” that could potentially ease famine worldwide.
In addition to trying to save the world, fonio is great because it’s versatile, happily at home as a base for a grain bowl, as a simple side dish with grilled and roasted meats, fried into beignets, or cooked with milk as a comforting breakfast cereal. Plus, it’s good for you: a protein-rich, gluten-free, nutritional powerhouse high in iron and fibre and filled with such micronutrients as vitamin B and antioxidant flavonoids. The quick-cooking grain is available at Walmart and Amazon/Whole Foods. (If you can’t find it, quinoa or couscous are decent, if less interesting, substitutes.)
In the US, fonio has a champion in chef Pierre Tham. He’s the co-founder of Yolélé Foods, which imports it from small farmers in such African countries as Mali, Chad, and his native Senegal. “Fonio does everything. It’s light, not dense, and you can take it any direction. It absorbs the salty but also the sweet,” said Tham.
One of Tham’s favourite recipes is for pancakes, which he hacked by – you guessed it-adding fonio.
The result is less like old-fashioned breakfast pancakes than a delicious fritter, puffy and light, with a tender chew. They’re terrific as the base for a pile of fried chicken, garlicky sautéed shrimp, or spiced-up grilled or roasted vegetables. But don’t discount their appeal as a classic start to your day, topped with melting butter and a stream of maple syrup.
PUFFY FONIO PANCAKES
Three large eggs, lightly beaten
One cup cooked fonio or couscous
One teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Quarter teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
Three tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter, for cooking
Maple syrup, for serving (optional)
In a bowl, combine the eggs, cooked fonio, vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Mix with a whisk or electric mixer until the batter is well-combined.
In a small skillet, melt a little of the oil or butter over medium heat. For each pancake, pour a scant third cup batter into the hot skillet. Using a metal spatula, push in any sides that ooze out. Cook until the bottoms are golden and bubbles form around the edges, two to three minutes. Flip and continue cooking for one to two minutes, until the pancake is cooked through. Transfer to a warm plate. Continue cooking the remaining pancakes, adding more oil or butter as necessary. Serve with maple syrup (optional).
To Cook Fonio: In a small pot with a lid, coat half cup fonio with one tablespoon coconut oil or vegetable oil. Toast over high heat, stirring, for one minute. Add one cup water and bring just to a boil. Stir in a large pinch of salt, then cover and cook for one minute. Turn off the heat and let steam, covered, for five minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve hot or cold. Makes about two cups.