Fonio is a staple food which is consumed in West African countries. It is used to make fonio flour, porridge, gruel, baby food, bread and beer. It can also be boiled and eaten with a sauce like rice or couscous. In Nigeria, it is popular in the Middle belt and Northern part of the country, where it is called acha and is used to prepare dishes like gwote acha (savoury porridge), Kunun acha (gruel), tuwon acha etc. In this blog post, I will show you how to cook fonio; and share a delicious savoury porridge recipe inspired by gwote acha.
Gwote acha is a traditional fonio recipe from Plateau state in Nigeria but is widely eaten in the Northern parts of the country. This fonio recipe combines grains with meat, condiments and local vegetables like sorrel leaves, garden egg leaves and garden egg to make a highly nutritious dish which is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I have adapted the local recipe to use the ingredients available to me. So before we make this savoury porridge recipe, let's find out more about fonio.
What Is Fonio?
Fonio is a tiny grain which is part of the millet family. It is similar in appearance to small couscous and is cultivated in parts of West Africa, including Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Benin. Local names include acha, eboaniye, fonyo, podgi, hungry rice etc. It is an ancient grain cultivated for thousands of years and an essential staple in these areas. A lot was not known about fonio outside of these regions, but it is gradually becoming popular in Western diets.
There are two types – white fonio (Digitaria exilis) and black fonio (Digitaria iburua), which is less common. These tiny grains are revered because they are excellent for feeding people. They have good swelling properties and also grow in poor soils. Some varieties mature quicker than most grains and are ready for harvest in 6 weeks.
Fonio is whole grain; it is not polished before consumption like rice, which makes it a nutritional powerhouse with great health benefits. It is a good source of protein, essential amino acids, and minerals like zinc, magnesium and potassium. In addition, it has high dietary fiber content and lower glycemic index compared to other cereals eaten in West Africa, like sorghum and maize. Its low glycemic index makes it a good meal option for people with diabetes. If you want to understand glycemic index, please read this post.
Fonio has a slightly earthy and nutty taste and is good at absorbing flavours. It works well with both savoury and sweet recipes, and is a gluten-free substitute for couscous.
How To Cook Fonio
Cooking fonio is quick and easy, which is part of its attraction. Cooked fonio can be eaten with sauce like rice or pasta; made into various fonio recipes, e.g. fonio pancakes or used to make a grain bowl/salad bowl. To boil fonio;
Add 3 cups of water per cup of fonio into a pan and allow to boil under medium heat.
Add some salt and the fonio. Reduce the heat and keep the pan covered.
Between 3-5 mins, all the water would have dried out.
Remove the pan from heat and keep covered for 5 mins.
Open the pan and fluff with a fork. Serve with your favourite sauce.
Do I Need To Wash Fonio Before Cooking?
Fonio sold locally tends to have a lot of sand because of the crude method of harvesting and processing – you need to wash these grains to separate the sand from the grains. I got mine from a store in the US and didn't need to clean it. Here's how to wash sandy fonio.
How To Make Savoury Fonio Porridge
Here are the ingredients you need...
A few notes about the ingredients...
- Meat: Traditionally, biscuit bones (white, dense cartilage in beef) are used for gwote. You can substitute smoked turkey with other types of meat. Depending on the meat you use, you may need to cook for longer before adding in the vegetables.
- Spice/Herbs: Fonio is excellent at absorbing flavours and works well with different spices and herbs. Gwote acha is prepared with bouillon cubes and local condiments like dawadawa (locust beans), ground dried prawns etc. I relied on smoked Turkey for the base flavour in my recipe. You can use your preferred seasoning for this savoury fonio porridge recipe.
- Vegetables: You can be flexible here and use whatever vegetables you have available.
How to make it...
Peel and chop the onions. Chop the garlic.
Slice the peppers, cabbage, spring onions and spinach.
Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Leave to cook until translucent and starting to brown.
Combine the smoked turkey, garlic, thyme ,bay leaves, and ground pepper in the pan. Add three cups of water and place on medium heat. Allow to cook for 15 mins.
Add the peppers and cabbage. Simmer for another 10 mins.
Pour in some water if the liquid is beginning to dry. Taste for salt and add more if needed.
Rinse the fonio until the water runs clean and there are no stones.
Add the fonio grains into the pan and reduce the heat.
Check after three minutes and add more liquid if all the liquid is already absorbed.
Mix in the spinach and spring onions.
Leave to cook for around 5 mins. If the porridge becomes too thick, you can add some water to get your preferred consistency.
Savoury Fonio Porridge
- Peel and chop the onions. Chop the garlic.
- Slice the peppers, cabbage, spring onions and spinach.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Leave to cook until translucent and starting to brown.
- Combine the smoked turkey, garlic, thyme ,bay leaves, and ground pepper in the pan. Add three cups of water and place on medium heat. Allow to cook for 15 mins.
- Add the peppers and cabbage and simmer for another 10 mins.
- Pour in some water if the liquid is beginning to dry. Taste for salt and add more if needed.
- Rinse the fonio until the water runs clean and there are no stones.
- Add the fonio grains into the pan and reduce the heat. Check after three minutes and add more liquid if all the liquid is already absorbed. Mix in the spinach and spring onions.
- Leave to cook for around 5 mins. If the porridge becomes too thick, you can add some water to get your preferred consistency.