A bowl of warm porridge drizzled with tamarind purée, kunun gyada recalls vivid memories for me, of visiting friends for iftar, the daily breaking of the Ramadan fast. Growing up in Nigeria, I experienced this dish as a welcome offering, with bowls handed to arriving guests, a restorative precursor to an evening’s meal.
This versatile porridge can be prepared thick, to be eaten with a spoon, or thinned into a beverage, and served as quick nourishment at any time of day. But its balancing qualities make it an ideal starter, and an especially inviting addition to iftar. Accented with spices, it’s creamy, comforting and a delicious first taste before a feast. And, like other ways of breaking a fast (soups, light stews and snacks, such as dates), kunun gyada is a convenient — and delicious — way to ease out of a powerful hunger.
The dish is just one of many contributions to West African cuisine from the Hausa people, who live in what is now northern Nigeria, Cameroon, southern Niger and elsewhere across the region. Like many beloved foods, kunun gyada — and other Hausa dishes — transcend borders and national identities.
Making kunun gyada is quite simple and requires only raw peanuts, sweet short-grain rice and a few spices. The dish shares many of the subtle sweet and creamy nuances of drinks made from almonds, cashews and the like, but it isn’t a nut milk. (Peanuts are technically legumes.)
Still, as when making nut milks, you’ll want to soak the peanuts beforehand, as well as the rice, to soften them and aid in the grinding process. And even that step offers some versatility: Fine-grinding the rice creates a silkier result, while keeping some grains coarse adds thickness and body. A blend of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, musky selim seed pods and a tiny bit of chile simmer and steep in the warm milk base to deliver a fragrant, mild sweetness.
Kunun gyada can be enjoyed much the same way as many breakfast favorites — topped like oatmeal or corn grits, or sipped like smoothies. A little sugar is typically added, as are sour tamarind or a squeeze of lemon juice for a bright finish. It’s also good with fresh fruit, homemade preserves or dark buckwheat honey. Blending in kefir or a drinkable yogurt transforms the porridge into a beverage.
However you prepare it, kunun gyada can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, ready to enjoy chilled right away or warm after a quick reheat. It provides a convenient, rich and deeply satisfying start — or end — to any day.
Recipe: Kunun Gyada (Spiced Peanut Rice Porridge)
Short-grain rice imparts a subtle sweetness to this creamy, peanutty blend. Aromatic cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves — or any other warming spices — meld into the comforting porridge, which is often served at the beginning or end of the day as a means of filling the gap between meals in northern Nigeria. Serve hot or room temperature, with a dab of tamarind purée for a bit of acid and some granulated sugar, honey or dates for sweetness. Or, mix the porridge with kefir for a drinkable version (see Tips).
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 40 minutes, plus soaking
2 cups shelled and skinned raw peanuts.
1/2 cup short-grain white rice, such as sushi rice.
4 selim seed pods (see Tips).
1 teaspoon ground ginger.
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick.
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg.
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne or 1 whole dried cayenne pepper.
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves or 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves.
Tamarind paste (see Tips) and sugar, honey or chopped dates, for serving.
1. Place the raw peanuts and rice in separate bowls, and add enough water to cover each by 2 inches. Soak at room temperature for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
2. Drain the peanuts and transfer to a blender. Pour in 2 cups room-temperature water and purée on high speed until smooth. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer or a sieve lined with muslin or two layers of cheesecloth, into a medium pot. Return the solids to the blender and combine with another 2 cups room-temperature water. Blend on high until puréed. Repeat the straining process, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. The remaining solids should be dry and crumbly. Discard the solids. You should have 4 cups of peanut milk in the pot.
3. Drain the rice and transfer to the blender (no need to wash). Pour in 2 cups room-temperature water and purée on high to grind the rice until smooth.
4. To the pot of peanut milk, add the selim seed pods, ginger, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne and cloves. Heat the milk and spices over medium, whisking frequently, until steam begins to rise from the surface, about 6 minutes. If using ground spices, continue to the next step. If using whole spices, including selim pods, turn off the heat, cover and allow the spices to steep for up to 10 minutes. Remove the spices with a slotted spoon after steeping.
5. Turn the heat to medium-low and whisk in the ground rice purée. Cook, stirring frequently until the mixture is thick enough for your whisk to leave a faint line as you drag it across the surface and any bubbles slowly rise to the surface, 8 minutes. Cover and simmer without stirring for about 4 minutes to fully cook the ground rice. Any coarse ground rice should be cooked through and soft, not starchy.
6. Serve the porridge in bowls that are warm or at room temperature. Top with a spoonful of tamarind paste for a slightly tangy finish and sweeten with sugar, honey or chopped dates.
To make a drinkable version of this porridge, stir another 1 cup water into the pot after adding the ground rice at the beginning of Step 5, then cook as directed. Allow to cool to room temperature. To serve, thin the porridge by whisking together equal parts cooked porridge and plain whole-milk kefir or drinkable yogurt. Ladle into mugs and stir in a spoonful of sugar or a drizzle of honey to sweeten.
Selim seed pods, also known as uda seeds or grains of selim pods, are typically sold as whole spices. They can be purchased online, at local African markets or from any stores that specialize in spices.
Tamarind can be bought as whole pods or pulp to make your own paste or as a concentrate or purée. It’s available online and at African, Indian or Asian grocery stores. If using pods or pulp, follow this recipe to make your own paste. If using prepared paste, taste it before stirring into the finished porridge and thin it with hot water, if you’d like.