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Cooked until fluffy and dry like couscous, fonio, a West African staple grain, keeps the meatballs tender while imparting a mildly nutty, earthy flavor. These meatballs are on the delicate side—let them chill before cooking, and sear them on all sides to help them hold together during the final simmer in the sauce.

March 2021


Read the full recipe after the video.

Recipe Summary test

55 mins
1 hr 55 mins
4 to 6


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Combine fonio, 1 cup chopped onions, Parmesan, egg, thyme, about 2 teaspoons garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a food processor. Process until mixture forms a coarse paste, about 30 seconds. Transfer fonio mixture to a large bowl; add ground beef and 1 cup chopped onions. Using your hands, gently combine meat mixture. Shape into 16 (about 2 1/4-ounces) balls; place on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours or overnight.

  • Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium. Add bay leaf, remaining onions (about 2 cups), and remaining garlic (about 2 teaspoons). Cook, stirring often, until onions are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, 1 cup broth, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring often, until sauce has thickened slightly, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in sweet potato and remaining 1/2 cup broth. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until sweet potato is almost tender, 18 to 24 minutes. 

  • While sweet potato cooks, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Working in batches if needed, cook meatballs in hot oil, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large plate.

  • Nestle meatballs in skillet with sauce. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low, until sweet potato is tender and meatballs are cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with Parmesan.

To make ahead

Meatballs can be formed and frozen up to 1 month ahead. Thaw before cooking.