SWEET POTATO & GRILLED OKRA FONIO SUSHI

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The greatest thing about Yolélé fonio is its versatility. I once brought some to my friend, Japanese soba master Chef Shuichi Kotani, who thought that fonio was reminiscent of its Japanese counterpart, buckwheat. (They are both ancient grains believed to be over 5,000 years old.) He ground the fonio into our to make delicious fonio soba noodles and subsequently fell in love with it.

This recipe, in which I substitute sushi rice with whole grain, nutritional powerhouse fonio, is another nod to Japan. Light and healthy, I fill my nori-maki sushi with sweet potato and okra.

(from Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl, by Pierre Thiam)

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Sweet Potato & Grilled Okra Fonio Sushi

Makes 4 rolls

Ingredients:

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  • 2 cups cooked Yolélé fonio
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons red palm oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 16 whole okra pods, trimmed (see Note)
  • 1 cup roasted mashed sweet potato
  • 4 sheets nori (seaweed)
  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1⁄2-inch-thick batons or Pickled Mango (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

Note: Trim the narrow points of the okra so the pods are evenly thick in the rolls.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the grill or a grill pan to hot.
  2. With a small mortar and pestle, mash half of the cooked fonio into a paste. Combine with the rest of the fonio to make it sticky. Combine the soy sauce, oil, and lime juice in a small bowl. Stir 1 tablespoon into the fonio and set the rest aside for dipping later.
  3. Grill the okra, turning once, for 3 to 5 minutes, until lightly charred and tender. Set aside to cool.
  4. Lay a nori sheet on a sushi mat and evenly spread a thin layer of the fonio, leaving about 1 inch bare along the edge opposite you. Spread a few tablespoons of the mashed sweet potato along the closest edge to you.
  5. Line up a few okra, tip to tip, next to the sweet potato. Lay a few pieces of mango, tip to tip, next to the okra.
  6. Tightly roll up the sushi mat around the nori and the filling. Slightly wet the exposed end of the nori with water and seal. Repeat the process with the remaining nori sheets and filling.
  7. With a sharp knife, slice the rolls into small rounds.
  8. Serve immediately with the soy dipping sauce, topped with the scallions.

For the Pickled Mango

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 whole selim pepper pods
  • 2 firm, ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and finely diced

Instructions:

In a small pot, bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Noah Levine