Beef-and-Fonio Meatballs with Sweet Potato Stew


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.

Active Time:
55 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 55 mins
4 to 6


  • ½ cup uncooked fonio (about 3 1/2 ounces), cooked according to package directions, cooled

  • 2 medium-size yellow onions, finely chopped, divided

  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/4 cup), plus more for garnish

  • 1 large egg

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

  • 4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped, divided

  • 2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste

  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided, plus more to taste

  • 1 pound 80% lean ground beef

  • 6 tablespoons peanut oil, divided

  • 1 fresh bay leaf

  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, with juices

  • 1 ½ cups lower-sodium chicken broth, divided

  • 1 medium-size sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    Beef and Fonio Meatballs with Sweet Potato Stew
    Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

To make ahead

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

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