Great African Eats: Fonio Salad, Sénégal

Sénégal’s cuisine is a delectable mélange of French, Portuguese, North African and Wolof (people originally from the Sahara). Fish, lamb, chicken, beef (no pork, as population is mainly Muslim), rice, black-eyed peas, peanuts, lentils, couscous, eggplant and sweet potatoes are all integral to its cooking. Star Sénégalese-born chef and cookbook author (Yolele!) Pierre Thiam (Iron Chef contender and OWNER of Pierre Thiam Catering) brings us an amazing salad recipe made with a highly-nutritious, gluten-free grain called fonio. Pierre says, “Fonio (Digitaria exilis) has been grown in Africa for centuries. It’s rich in methionine and cysteine, two amino acids that are vital to human HEALTH, and that are deficient in today’s major cereals.”

1-cup fonio
1 tsp. salt dissolved in 1/4 cup water
Juice of 2 lemons
½ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
1 c. peanut or canola oil
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 bunch mint, finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced

Wash the fonio with cold running water and drain well. Place the fonio in the top of a steamer lined with cheesecloth. Set over simmering water, cover, and steam the fonio, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and fluff with a fork. Drizzle with salted water and steam again until the grains are tender. (Alternately, fonio can be prepared in a microwave by adding enough water to cover in a bowl and cooking until tender, 6-8 minutes.) In a small mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice with the salt and pepper and whisk to dissolve. Slowly pour in the olive oil still whisking to emulsify. Place the cooked fonio in a large bowl and add parsley, mint, cucumber and tomatoes. Pour enough dressing over the fonio mixture to coat the grains well. Toss and serve.

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