Have you guys ever heard of fonio?
It's the name of a small grain that has been used for thousands of years in West Africa. Fonio looks a bit like brown sugar, it's a very small grain. It's naturally gluten-free, has an earthy, nutty flavor and a texture similar to couscous when cooked. It's also rich in fiber, protein, iron, and calcium. I still wonder why I didn't try it sooner!
These fonio balls are super tender and served in an African-inspired peanut sauce. Ready?
We start by cooking the fonio. Since it is a very small grain (a bit smaller than millet), it cooks very quickly. Just 7 minutes in boiling water and it's ready!
The mixture for the balls is easy to prepare. You process the cooked fonio, oats, spices, and aromatics like garlic and onion in a food processor until everything is well combined and sticky enough to form balls. For the spices, I went with a mix of ground cumin, chili, paprika, coriander, fenugreek, and cinnamon. This mix is inspired by famous African spice blends like Ras el Hanout, or Berbere. If you have those in your pantry, feel free to use it instead of the different spices.
Once the balls are shaped, shallow-fry in a skillet until golden brown. What I like about these fonio balls is how well they hold together, you don't have to worry about them falling apart.
Now onto the sauce! Cook some onions, garlic, and ginger until fragrant, then add carrots and red bell peppers. The addition of carrots and peppers not only adds sweetness, it gives the dish more texture. I personally like to keep the carrots slightly crunchy.
When the carrots are cooked, pour in the full-fat coconut milk, a generous amount of natural peanut butter, water to thin out, spices and some coconut sugar to balance with the spices.
Do not try to reduce the amount of peanut butter or use light coconut milk, it just won't be as good. Okay, the sauce is rich but it's really the star of the dish.
Finally, you add the fonio balls to the sauce, stir to coat and let simmer a few more minutes to let the balls soak up the flavors of the sauce.
These fonio balls are delicious with a simple green salad, or on top of rice for a filling and nutritious meal. I'm sure you will love this recipe, it's tender, creamy and packed with flavor. Seriously!
If you are looking for more recipes using fonio, stay tuned I have a few more in the works!
Let me know in the comments if you try this recipe!
Fonio Balls in Peanut Sauce
- 1 cup fonio
- 2 and ½ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup quick oats or rolled oats
- ½ teaspoon harissa paste
- ½ onion diced
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground chili
- 1 teaspoon each: paprika and coriander
- ½ teaspoon fenugreek
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
Coconut Peanut Sauce
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 onion diced
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 carrot finely sliced
- ½ red bell pepper diced
- 1 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
- ⅓ cup peanut butter
- ½ cup water you might have to use ¾ cup
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground chili
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts
- Heat a teaspoon of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the fonio and toast for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until no liquid remains, about 7-8 minutes.
- Transfer the cooked fonio to the bowl of a food processor. Add the oats, harissa paste, onion, garlic, spices, and tomato paste. Process for 20-30 seconds, scraping down the sides regularly until everything is well combined and the mixture is sticky enough to form balls. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
- Using your hands, form balls (about 3 tablespoons of the mixture per ball). Transfer to a large plate or dish lined with parchment paper and set aside. You should get about 12 balls.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the balls and rotate the skillet to coat the balls with oil. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly until the balls are golden brown on each side. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
Coconut Peanut Sauce
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add onion, garlic, and grated ginger. Cook for 1 minute. Add the carrot and red bell pepper, and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the carrots are soft.
- Pour in the coconut milk, peanut butter, water, tomato paste, coconut sugar, ground chili, and salt. Stir well to combine everything. For a thinner sauce, use ¾ cup water instead of ½ cup. Taste and adjust salt, or sugar if needed. Cook for another 3-5 minutes.
- Transfer the fonio balls to the sauce and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes. Top with peanuts, red pepper flakes, and fresh parsley. Serve immediately on top of rice, or simply with a green salad.
So creative + beautiful!
Do you think I can use Bulgur instead of the fonio to make these balls?
Dish looks delicious, hopefully I'll make it this evening 😉
Hey Maarten, yes I think bulgur will be a great substitute!
Hi Thomas, I slightly changed your recipes. I added some fish sauce instead of salt and added the zest and juice of 1 lime to add some acidity and decrease a bit the fatness of the peanut butter and coconut milk. Very nice and tanks for the inspiration. I bought my first bag of Folio 2 days ago and was looking for ideas when I found your recipe. You look very young so congratulations for the creativity.
Thanks for sharing your tweaks 😉 Happy to hear you liked the recipe!
Ah, yes I have to update my photo, it's a few years old now 🙂
What do you mean by barbarian name?
'Fonio' is the (bad) transcription of the Pulaar 'finiyé' by French colons , which probably doesn't sound less barbarian to you. But I bet 'burger" would sound as barbarian to them as fonio to you.
This was a little joke Rosa 🙂
This looks good. I have just come across this grain and went looking for recipes. Several other posts suggest washing fonio before use. What do you think? If I wash it, even with draining well, it will be pretty wet and not very amenable to toasting. Any recommendations or thoughts about rinsing the fonio and then toasting it? Thanks
I would try toasting it and then washing, or just skip the toasting process, it should still taste good 😉
Offended West African
Barbarian name??? Are you kidding!!
Just an expression to refer to a word that is unknown...no need to feel offended at all.
Offended West African
Well, 1. That's not the meaning of the word Barbarian; 2. Unknown to who? The grain is literally of West African origin and you're saying what we call it is the Barbarian name? That's disrespectful at best, Thomas.
Thomas, thanks for the recipe. Looking forward to trying it. I believe you should delete your barbarian reference - this coming from a professor of humanities
It has been deleted already.
Do you think that quinoa would work with this recipe, if so what if any changes should be made?
I'm afraid the balls would fall apart if using quinoa.
I replaced the fonio with millet and it was Delicious! Perfect and comforting for this cold weather.
”Barbarian” name? Really?
sounding like the colonizers son..
Ever tried baking the balls instead of frying?
I have never tried, but these are not deep-fried so it doesn't absorb too much oil.
I’m eager to try this recipe. What kind of chile are you referring to when you say “ground chili?” Where I am, there is a huge variety of chiles that are available in ground form. If you don’t know specifically what type of chile it is, what is the flavor like? Is it hot? Sweet? Smoky?
I'm referring to chili mix spice that usually also contains cumin. It's hot but not as hot as cayenne pepper powder.
I think this recipe is quite creative, showcasing an incredible grain, but I think there are some inconsistencies in this post that need to be highlighted.
1. I think the use of barbarian is very insensitive to describe the origins of the word fonio. It may be used as a lighthearted joke but as a West African these are words are quite hurtful to identify aspects of our culture. It brings back painful history of colonialism where the word barbarian was most often used to describe the African peoples the colonizer had come to "civilize". Especially when writing a recipe where Africa is invoked this is not the best choice of words.
2. I would like to focus on the African Peanut Sauce naming. Using that to name a recipe points to a false origin and consistency of food across all African countries. Africa is not a monolith and neither is the cuisine found across all 54 countries. Peanuts are used in different ways across countries and may not be a key ingredients in some countries. We do not see "European Stir fry" or "North American Pie" but we consistently see African peanut stew or soup. This again highlights the trope of Africa the continent having one cultural identity. Furthermore, there is no mention in the recipe about which African country the peanut sauce originated from. These are important question we Africans (yes from all countries) are consistently asking white food bloggers that are continuously lumping our foods into one category without any homage to the origin
I am in no way trying to come of as brash because its hard to see my facial expression behind these words, rather I am inviting you to have an open and honest conversation about this blog post. If you would love to continue this conversation, I am available on instagram as @thecanadianafrican
Thanks for your comment. As I explained in a previous comment, I used the expression "Barbarian word" as a way to say this word is unique, not common. It's a French expression and it seems it's no used in English. To make it clear, I would use the exact same expression for any other word, no matter its origins. I'm sorry to hear you feel offended by that. Maybe I should change it as it was the case for other persons.
Regarding the naming, I agree it is very global and I'm aware of how diverse Africa is, and that depending on the country and area, the cuisine is very different. However, to keep it simple I went with "African" as this is simply a recipe inspired by some ingredients used in some African countries. Just like you sometimes see "Asian Stir-Fry". I think you can see that when I can, I try to refer to the exact country. Anyway, I will try to be more specific in naming recipes next time 🙂
I also think this recipe is quite creative—and I also find the word “Barbarian” quite offensive. I can assure you that it is quite derogatory. I understand that you don’t mean it that way, but sometimes we use language/expressions without knowing where they come from. There are many words in Spanish and in English that I grew up using and that have colonial origins that I wasn’t aware of; I used them without realizing that they were demeaning even to me as a speaker of those languages who does not belong to the dominant (European) culture. This is one of the insidious ways in which colonialism is still at work, long after the colonies have ceased to be. Now that I know where those words came from, I can never use them again.
The fact that a word is commonly used does not change where it came from. It may be easy for the dominant culture to ignore where the word came from; it’s not so easy for those who historically have borne the brunt of it.
When someone points out in good faith that a word is hurtful because of its meaning and historical context, it’s usually a good idea to take note; it’s the respectful thing to do. A little bit of humility goes a long way. Could you simply remove the word “barbarian” from your description? The recipe remains the same, and we can all enjoy it.
This is from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:
Wikipedia also has different meanings, anyway it has been removed.
I just re-read the blog post and saw that you have already removed the word “barbarian.” Thank you. It makes a big difference.
I just re-read the blog post, and I see that you have already removed the word “barbarian.” Thank you. It makes a big difference.
You are right, I absolutely don't mean it the way many people think, that's why I decided to remove it.
I do believe though that words, no matter where they come from (except very few ones), can be perceived as offensive or not, it all depends on your perspective.
Hello Afia, first of all let me notify to you that I am African like you I appreciate your post coming from a well articulate place thanks very much for defending Africa but I have reservations on your observations : first why are African always batching and crying over nothing? Do you seriously think you're validating the credit of your continent over a food name? Sad to say, what I see is only a bunch of insecurities there and here. Have not ever read Indian curry? But you have curry all over Asia or Chinese fry rice? But let me tell you that even in the same country as China each part has it own cuisine but they're not over the world discrediting this name calling or that one.
You need the continent to be validated I understand that, but it could only be through your behaviour( individual or entity) not on food's names. Impact society with your knowledge, create invent and stop the continuous bacthing that become in the end a doorway to the negativity about yourself.
I see no insults in this post whatsoever, he used words that in your mind sound colonial, but not all white are colons you know, and not all white believe what they've been told about Africa so don't assume, think positive next time. Because when you think positive about yourself you only attract positivity
Thanks for your message, I do agree with you that everyone should respect countries and ethnicities. I have been living in Asia for several months now and many times I heard some types of food called "western food" when it was actually French, or Italian, etc...I'm French and I didn't feel offended by that.
I can't agree more than we find what we are looking for.
Butterfly, I disagree. Most of your comments make sense however you cannot discredit someone's view or opinion based on your interpretation.
You need to look at it with a different perspective i.e. Thomas will see it based on his upbringing, travels or whatever he is used to so the words he uses for a culture that he has no affinity to based on colour or proximity is different to words used by African or descendants of Africans i.e. No African would refer to the continent using the word 'Barbaric' for obvious reasons and possibly Thomas didn't mean to cause harm but lack of acknowledgement of the misplaced word also shows privilege and being distant to the pain such words caused in the past.
I wouldn't be quick to dismiss someone else's perspective of suffering whether you share their view or not otherwise you are gaslighting.
I can't wait to try this!!
I have made this recipe and it’s outstanding. But I have one question. Fenugreek seeds or leaves?
Thanks Beth! 🙂 Fenugreek powder, or dried leaves ground into a powder.
Yes please more fonio recipes ! Fonio grain pancakes ? 🙂
Will take into consideration 🙂
as an answer to 'wash'/rinse foni or not...
Like rice you can rinse the foni and the effect in both cases is it will be 'less sticky' after rinse... so in this recipe I suggest not to rinse because you want them sticky to form balls....
Wow, I didn't realize Thomas was such a white entitled male. So sad. I'm vegan bc I don't support oppression. I can no longer support Thomas or his blog. I hope other vegans step up.
Here is a summary:
Thomas writes Barbarian in this recipe to refer to an African grain.
When people advise they are offended here is how Thomas responds.
1. It's a joke
2. I'm not racist to Asians so I can't be racist to Africans
3. I deleted it so it doesn't matter anymore
4. I believe no one should be offended by words, except very few and I decide who gets to be offended and why
5. It's just an 'expression' no need to be offended
6. Wikipedia has a different definition to barbarian so any other definition isn't important, just the one I want to use
7. Barbarian didn't translate properly
8. Sorry you're offended but I'm going to keep making excuses as to why I, a white male, can use this term and tell you not to be offended
Not once did he actually apologize for his behavior. He made excuse after excuse. I don't support oppression of any being and I don't support racism.
lawrence kenneth iverson
so from his (joking) use of one word that you don't like you can decide( and scold him for it ) that this guy is "an entitled white male" (thereby letting us all know that YOU are,of course,not.) Perish the thought!!! It's exactly this sort of enthusiastic virtue signalling that causes more normal people to laugh at and not take seriously your (doubtless well-intentioned) efforts to STOP RACISM!!
Hi! Didn't care for the "meatball", I'm not a huge grains fan. So no reflection on your recipe.....but the sauce is to die for! Not a huge pb fan but this is amazing. You might wonder if I don't care for grains and pb why would I make this recipe lol someone else made it at work for our vegan option today.
Glad you liked the sauce 🙂 Thanks for your feedback!
I like the sauce and it was interesting trying this grain for the first time. A couple observations for those making this recipe:
Number of fonio balls: I can't imagine how big these would be if you made only 12-14 from the amount of grain, oats, and other ingredients called for. I made 4 dozen out of the recipe; these were about the size of traditional Swedish meatballs. I thought the smaller size was good given the desire to have these absorb the flavor of the sauce (perhaps 1.5" in diameter). Overall, it makes much more than 4 servings. I've had two already and hardly made a dent in the overall amount.
Sauteing the fonio balls: I found this difficult with just a little oil and had to add more--almost like a shallow deep fry--and keep it very hot to prevent the grain from sticking to the pan.
Sauce: I would have doubled the amount of sauce (or used half the fonio ball recipe) if I knew how much would be absorbed by the fonio balls. The relative amount of sauce to fonio balls is decreased dramatically the next day much as if you have pasta in a soup that absorbs the liquid.
"Temperature" of the spices. The base flavor of the sauce is good, and the peanut butter and tomato paste amounts seemed well balanced. I'm someone who typically thinks recipes are too salty and I order a medium or lower spice level at restaurants. However, I would have liked this quite a bit spicier and saltier. Next time, I will add more heat from more harissa paste, garlic, and chili pepper. I used a spicy ancho-chili pepper mix, but my harissa paste was rather mild.
Thanks for your deep feedback!
Am sooo curious to try fornio - ( never heard of it before) the recipe sounds awesome… can you suggest an alternative ?
To those on the racist/inappropriate/ oversensitive/overprecious bandwagon - get over yourselves.
Stick to the food issue - and stop the freaking attack over a misused word.
‘Racist’ !! What drivel.
I would think wheat semolina would make a good alternative, but you won't have the same nutty/earthy flavor.
Thanks for your support, it's okay 🙂 People see racism and cultural appropriation everywhere these days.
I love this! I think it’s a pretty forgiving recipe: I was missing all kinds of things from harissa to fresh ginger to red bell peppers and even the abridged version was very flavorful. The balls taste North African to me. My Ghanaian husband didn’t love them but of course he enjoyed the sauce. Our 3yo daughter had fun rolling the balls with me.
Thanks for your feedback Hélène!
Great recipe! Will definitely make it again.
Is it possible to make the balls ahead and freeze them?
I haven't tried freezing the balls, so I can't say for sure, sorry.