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 granulated 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.