Suya. Home food. One thought and my mouth begins to water—its deliciousness is engraved in the heart, mind, and tummy of my 7-year-old daughter who left Nigeria for the Netherlands four years ago as a mere toddler. The flame-grilled, peanut-spiced pieces of beef are one of the few memories she’s preserved, along with the tropical heat.
Suya is Nigerian street food at its most popular; it's never made at home. Well, almost never. The exceptions? If you invite the suya man himself into your humble abode to rustle some up, and if you are (like me) away from home, in diaspora, and hankering after spicy meats of years past, then of course permission is granted to try this at home.
On the street, it's prepared by Mallams, men from the north of the country, trained in the art and spice of meat preservation. It has very humble origins, being the preserve of pastoral nomads who travelled with their herds of cattle and often had to use the meat of the animals both for food and trade. Thanks to the ‘wandering' of these men, every nook and cranny in every Nigerian city boasts a suya spot.
So what is suya? It's similar to Asian satay. Thin strips of steak (sirloin, flank, or topside) are coated in a dry peanut rub, flavors heightened by a balanced combination of powders: ginger, garlic, paprika, chili, and salt. The cut of meat matters, but not that much as the marinade tenderizes it wonderfully. Of course each mallam has his own special spice mix. Hours later and meat threaded onto sticks, they're cooked over hot coals 'til ready, then set aside to await the onslaught of clients at the end of a hard day’s work.
At 4 or 5 p.m., the suya spots are suddenly transformed into a hive of activity. Amongst the crowds are boys trying to woo girls (rarely the reverse), parents treating kids, colleagues, friends, and everyone in between. No one is too rich, too poor, too southern or western, of the right sex, wrong height to get suya from the same open-flamed shop—it's a delicacy that cuts across every social level one can think off.
As soon as the orders are in, the suya sticks are warmed up again and served in newspapers, meat on sticks or sans, with a sprinkling of the marinade mix, fresh tomato wedges, slices of red onion, and for the brave only, slices of fresh hot chiles.
It's easier to slice the beef if you freeze it for 1 hour prior to use. You can use store-bought peanut butter, but you will need to thin it by gentle heating. Add a dash of coconut milk or water to create a thick pouring consistency. The spice measurements are a guide; adjust them to suit your taste. And the best tasting suya is cooked, left to rest for a couple of hours, and then reheated gently over the flames...of your grill! —Kitchen Butterfly
- Prep time 40 minutes
- Cook time 40 minutes
- makes About 12 skewers
flank, sirloin, or topside
roasted unsalted peanuts, skins removed
1/4 to 1/2 cups
vegetable oil, plus more for grilling
1 to 2 tablespoons
fresh lemon or lime juice
(or more) chili powder or cayenne pepper
(or more) ground ginger
(or more) onion powder
(or more) sea salt
(or more) sweet paprika
Thinly sliced cabbage, red onions, tomatoes, and cilantro leaves, for serving
- Slice the steak against the grain into thin, wide pieces (about 5 millimeters thick and 4 to 5 centimeters wide), slightly thicker than carpaccio; set aside.
- In a food processor or blender, pulse the peanuts until crushed. The ground nuts will stick to the sides of the container, so using a spatula, loosen the bits from the bottom and sides. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil along with the kosher salt, blending until a thick cream forms. Add the lime juice, chili powder, ginger, onion powder, sea salt, and paprika; pulse to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
- Place the beef in a large bowl. Pour the peanut sauce over. Using your hands, mix well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Thread the beef strips onto soaked wooden skewers accordion-style, so the meat is stretched out, not bunched up.
- You can cook them on a grill pan or grill. Obviously, the smoky grill ones taste much better. The grill is ready when the coals are red hot and have a layer of gray ash.
- Brush the grill rack with oil and carefully place the skewers on the rack. Grill for a few minutes, then turn and grill the other side. They should be cooked through in about 10 minutes, depending on how thick the slices of meat are.
- If they aren’t ready after 10 minutes, move them to grill over indirect heat; the meat will be soft and tender.
- Transfer the skewers to a plate and let rest for 1 to 2 hours. Gently rewarm and serve with the cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro.