Pierre Thiam Makes Beef and Fonio Meatballs with Sweet Potato Stew

This episode of F&W Cooks follows Chef Pierre Thiam in his home kitchen as he makes his Beef and Fonio Meatballs with Sweet Potato Stew recipe.

Video Transcript


PIERRE THIAM: We are going to talk about fonio today, which is the start of our recipe. Fonio is the oldest cultivated grain in West Africa. It's resilient. It's very, very nutritious. Let's start cooking.

Today we're making beef and fonio meatballs with sweet potatoes too. It's a dish that's inspired by traditional Senegalese recipes. And now we are going to make the meatballs. You want to chop the onions roughly. You know, [? more on ?] the fine side. I'm going to add them to the ground beef here in my bowl. And I'm going to chop my garlic. Same as the onions, you want the garlic to be as fine as possible.

Cooking is about senses. It's about feeling the ingredients. And there's so much information you get from the ingredients. Even the sides or way you're chopping it, you know? By feeling it, by touching it, you can tell if it's fine enough. And it's all going to be mixed with my onion and my ground beef.

So the next step is going to be the herb, the thyme. I'll chop it fine as well, making sure all the tough branches from the thyme are removed. So it's getting all the flavors now are getting layered in this meatball here.

All you need is fonio and water. And bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, keep it covered. And within five minutes your fonio is cooked. To it I'm going to add Parmesan cheese, grated Parmesan cheese. Just adding a nice umami flavor to this ground beef. At this stage I'm going to crack one egg. The egg is going to be the binding effect of the meatballs. Season it with some salt, freshly ground black pepper.

I'm using my hands here now and I'm getting the meat and the fonio and the onions and the garlic all together inside. And you're going to have like this really light and bouncy meatball, you know, and very nutritious and gluten free. So at this stage the mixture is ready and I'm going to shake them with my hand. Again, you know, using your hand and feeling it. We want it to to have some texture, to look rustic also. And we are ready to refrigerate it.

All right and now we are about to get going with the broth. So we'll start by peeling and chopping the sweet potatoes. And then we cut it in big chunks. And here the next step, I'm going to crush the tomatoes. And I'm going to crush them using my hands. So this is to make sure the tomatoes still remain chunky.

All right, now we are going to cook. Peanut oil, I'm using here. You want your oil to be hot enough, so that you see it sizzling when you add your onions. Let's see how hot is my oil, you know?


You hear? There's a sizzling that's happening right now. That means your oil is hot enough now. So I'm going to add all my onions. And I'll stir it with a wooden spoon before adding the garlic and the bay leaves.

My onions are wilting and I'm gonna let them wilt like this until it almost turn brown. Then I'll add my crushed tomatoes.


And now I'm adding the broth. I save some broth on the side. I can add it even if my sauce is too sweet. You know once I have the meatballs in, I can add more broth to dilute it. So right now I'm going to bring it to a boil, so I raise my temperature and I cover it.

So now my stew is coming to a boil, as you can see. I'm going to bring it a simmer now. Add some salt and pepper. And my sweet potatoes. So for stew, I like to use sweet potatoes because that's the ingredient that's very popular in our cuisine in Senegal. The starchiness will allow the stew to thicken. And the sweetness really is a great way to balance all the different flavors that we have-- the layers of flavors that we have in the meatballs.

Not to mention that it's also very nutritious. And it's one of those ingredients-- I'm not sure if you're familiar with the "Future 50 Foods." It's like those ingredients that we really need to keep consuming more of those, you know, just for the environment sake.

Now I've taken the meatballs out of the refrigerator. They're nice and firm. And then, you know, they're ready to be fried.

So let's-- we first start with the oil. You also want a thick pan. That's really like going to conduct the heat evenly around. I think-- I can nicely hear now. I'm gonna drop my meatballs 1 by 1 in the heat, OK?

So you want-- you don't want to crowd them. Fonio is part of what we call regenerative [? plant, ?] because it regenerates the soil. It has deep roots that really fix nutrients to the soil. So a soil that's poor-- fonio can grow in that soil and it can enrichen it.

Traditionally, Fonio was common as side ingredients, you know, as side dish for stews, for sauces It's a grain that loves sauces. You know, and it cooks so fast. You can serve it pretty much with anything you like, because it has a neutral flavor.

Last step now. Everything comes together. We're going to add the meatballs that we ground all-around to our sweet potatoes that are almost tender now. They're halfway through now and they're going to finish cooking in that broth and get more of that flavor. I'll stir it together. Add a little more stock. You want to adjust the seasoning, so you taste it first. And make sure it has enough flavor. And for a few more minutes-- you want the sweet potatoes to be completely cooked through and the meatballs as well.

So now we are ready to plate. Let's see how it's looking. Oh my goodness. This is so-- looking perfect. Let me taste it now, see how the seasoning. Delicious.

Take a look at this. This is a complete meal now. You have this dish that has this grain. That has the protein from the meat and from the grain. It has the vegetables from the sweet potatoes, the onions, and it has herbs and tomatoes.

You finish with more cheese on the top. And you can put some greens. OK. And now we get to the best part of it. We get to taste it. And I'm going to take a nice bite. I see a firmness from my meatball.

Delicious. It is very sweet combined so-- I'm sorry I'm talking with my mouth full. Because it's so good. I want to share that moment with you. It's really comfort food at its best here. [INAUDIBLE] and this is so good. This sweet potato plays such a beautiful role sweetening everything. And these meatballs are so light.

That's the secret behind fonio. It cooks so easily, it is great for you, it's great in this recipe. You can do it with any other recipes. Substitute fonio and you will experience the power of this tiny grain. Bon appetit.