Suya, a roast African spicy skewered beef, is an irresistible beef satay with a spicy peanut spice blend – the epitome of West African Street food.
It is made with your choice of meat and a peanut-spice rub called tankora or a peanut powder extract called kuli-kuli. In Africa, peanuts are also known as groundnuts.
Street food is an everyday thing in West Africa. Morning, noon and night, grills on street corners boast the heady scent of things charring. In the neighborhoods of Abuja or Accra, pedestrians pound into work every day amid a swirling commotion, often stopping for breakfast at a street food cart, the rattling city waking up for work has a kind of cinematic cacophony of traffic, bustle and grill smoke.
What is the origin of suya?
Unless you have been crawled up under a rock, there is no denying you must have tried some form of skewered meat that is grilled, broiled or slowly cooked over an open flame.
They would set up their BBQ pits in most neighborhoods, on street corners, selling grilled meat, some skewered others not, till every single stick is gone.
What is suya?
Suya or soya is the quintessential West African street food that is made up of well-spiced grilled pieces of meat that are mostly placed on a skewer.
In Nigeria, it is called suya. In Cameroon, it is called soya. In Ghana, it is called chinchinga or sitsinga. In French it is called brochettes. It is also known as “beef kebab” or “kabob”. It is one of life’s guilty pleasures, very tasty and a little addicting.
Suya actually refers to the seasoning mix, which typically includes ground peanuts, salt, pepper, paprika, and chili pepper. The flavor is complex and the aroma is strong but pleasant. Heat levels vary depending on the cook, but the depth of flavor is consistent and is the draw that will make you overeat if you’re not careful.
You could use this suya spice mix to marinate meat, fish or chicken. It is a must-have for your kitchen shelf and it stays pretty well in a sealed container for later use.
Although suya originated in the northern parts of Nigeria, it has permeated the Nigerian society, being affordable for all and available everywhere. It has been called a unifying factor in Nigeria. Suya has become a Nigerian national dish with different regions claiming the superiority of their recipe and methods of preparation, but similar grilled meat recipes are common in many West African countries.
Suya is generally made with skewered beef, ram, or chicken. Innards such as kidney, liver and tripe are also used. The thinly sliced meat is marinated in various spices which include peanut, salt, vegetable oil and other flavorings, and then barbecued.
How to make beef suya
This is an easy, no fuss recipe. If you have a knife and a grill, you’re good to go. Skewering the meat is the only real work involved in this recipe. Beyond that, you’ll need to slice the beef and blend the seasoning mix, rub, grill and eat.
You can choose whatever meat you fancy for this recipe – there are no hard-and-fast rules. While goat is most common (and darker, sometimes gamey, meats hold up to the deeply pungent spices best), it works very well with chicken too.
For this recipe, I used ribeye. It’s a great cut to use as it’s easy to slice thinly and the pieces of fat keeps the meat moist when grilling. The key is to use a tender cut that can hold up to high heat grilling. Flat-iron and sirloin are cuts that would do well also.
Cook this on the barbecue during the summer, and in a griddle pan or under the grill the rest of the year. Whichever method you choose, the easy cooking style and earthy flavors epitomize much about Ghanaian cooking.
In restaurants, suya is served with extra helpings of dried pepper mixed with spices, tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage and sliced onions. Halal meat preparation methods are normally used, especially in the northern parts of Nigeria, where the suspicion of nonconformity to Muslim dietary prohibitions in suya preparation has been known to cause riots. A dried version of suya is called kilishi. It can be eaten with garri.
Behind every suya Restaurant is a “suya master” who commands all the bragging rights for these sumptuous eats. In a casual setting, it’s popularly served with palm wine – a tasty alcoholic beverage made from the sap of a palm tree.
There is no standard recipe for the production of the complex mixture of spices and additives which make up the suya marinade (called yaji) and the spice mix served with it. Ingredients may vary according to personal and regional preferences.
Beef suya cooking tips
– Soak the skewers ahead of time so that they don’t burn when cooking.
– Target beef slice sizes somewhere between a Greek kebab (chunky) and Vietnamese satay (thin).
– Salt the beef ahead of time to make them more receptive to the flavors from the spice mix.
– Heat is required as you’ll need it to balance against the peanut flavor. However, do adjust the seasoning to your preferred level.
We hope you get to try this recipe for your next summer grilling.
- 3 lb beef (to grill)
- 3 oz. roasted peanuts with skin , finely ground into powder
- 1 tablespoon ground Cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg , freshly grated
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon white pepper
- 1 cube beef bouillon (or chicken bouillon Maggi), reduced to powder
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 10 skewers
- Heat the barbecue (or oven in grill position) to 450 F.
- In a bowl, combine the garlic and onion powders, smoked paprika, ginger, nutmeg, white pepper, Cayenne pepper, peanuts and bouillon cube. Set aside.
- Thoroughly dry the meat with paper towel.
- Slice meat in pieces of about 1 to 2 inches and to a thickness of approximately 1 inch (or in 1 inch cubes).
- Thread 4 pieces of meat per skewer.
- Rub the meat with the spice mixture.
- Place the skewers on the previously oiled barbecue grill (or in the oven on an oiled baking tray).
- Brush oil onto the meat and gril for about 12 to 15 minutes. Brush with oil after turning the skewers halfway through cooking.
- Serve immediately.