Suya: Nigerian BBQ

May 29, 2013

Suya started to occupy my thoughts a few years ago when I noticed a takeaway place in Peckham: Obalende Suya Express on the high street. To say the place looks ramshackle is putting it mildly – the sign is caked in pigeon shit and interior design consists of a few stick-legged metal chairs with  scraps of fabric hanging off them. Obviously I went in, and I caught them on a good day; the suya was tender, smoky and like nothing I’d tasted before. Sadly the quality isn’t consistent. Boo. Thoughts turned to making my own.

A colleague of mine regularly travels to Nigeria and once, very kindly, she brought me back a package of suya spice. It came wrapped in someone’s bank statement. I tried it out at a friend’s BBQ but the results were a bit weird; the meat released a musty fug that smelled like Peckham down wind on a bad day. Rotting yams with a hint of fish and the dusty corners of an African back alley. That was several years ago, but recently I decided to have another crack at it.

Basically suya is either sliced beef, chicken or fish, rubbed in a mixture of (crucially) ground peanuts and a mixture of flavourings including paprika, onion powder and ginger, amongst others. This is called tankora. The meat is threaded onto skewers and cooked and as far as I can tell, the smoke flavour is essential. It is served with a pile of tankora at the side plus some sliced onions and tomatoes.

Cracking the BBQ out again this weekend seemed like a balls out banger opportunity to salve some psychological wounds and get back down with the suya. Obviously there’s no point doing things by halves so we decided upon a suya three way cook off: a home made version, vs. the scary Nigerian must-in-a-jar vs. a packet of ready made mix picked up on Rye Lane.

Suya spice from Nigeria…mild but musty 

The Peckham blend…spicy 

Home made version mixed with the peanuts

Making your own tankora is basically a case of grinding up the nuts but stopping before they become peanut butter, then mixing with the other flavours and smearing onto the meat. We did this right before cooking which worked very well; the meat is sliced so thinly that to marinate it seems less necessary.

Really tasty sirloin from Flock and Herd in Peckham 


Three way taste off

As we were grinding up the nuts to make the home made marinade it occurred to me what had gone wrong with my first attempt – the spice mixes are sold to be mixed with peanuts, not used neat. No wonder it was a little *cough* intense. It turns out that the home made version was the most vibrant, as you would expect. Handy really, considering not everyone can get bank statement wrapped packages from Nigeria, or nip down to the local African shop.

It’s hot, this recipe, humming with chilli and ginger. The ground nuts add buttery textural intensity, which made the gloriously tender sirloin seem even more so. In short, it was bloody tasty. A new BBQ favourite.
Suya Recipe

600g sirloin steak, cut into slices about a cm thick (get the butcher to do this as it can be a bit tricky)
50g peanuts (salted is fine, just don’t add any extra salt to the mixture)
1 teaspoon chilli (grind up whatever you have, or use chilli powder)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder OR you can be a fly beeatch like me and use 1 teaspoon ground up crispy fried onions from a bag

Grind up the peanuts in a spice grinder or blender. Stop before they become peanut butter. Add all the other spices and smother with the paste. Grill over the direct heat on a BBQ, leaving the inside slightly pink. Serve with a pile of the spice mixture if you like, and some sliced tomatoes and onions.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Miss Whiplash May 29, 2013 at 10:02 am

    There is a newish takeaway place called Supa Suya just across the road from here… We’ve been a bit scared to try it so far – it’s very, ummm, *bright*.
    Yours looks nice, though – maybe we should give the place a go. Or make our own.

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    Reply Marc May 29, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Looks amazing and well done for giving it a go. Have had decent suya in Dalston before but you have inspired me to give it a go next time the BBQ is out!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 29, 2013 at 10:33 am

      It also has the advantage of being really quick to make.

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    Reply Chris Pople May 29, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Attempting to follow a recipe for Southern US BBQ rub one time, I went out looking for onion powder and discovered that it’s basically the rarest substance known to man. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I reckon it’s probably easier to get hold of a packet suya spice than the individual onion powder element.

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      Reply Helen May 29, 2013 at 11:57 am

      I’ve seen it in, SURPRISE..Khan’s. Couldn’t find it in there this time though. That’s obviously how I ended up using the fried onions which were nicer really, obviously because they were caramelised first.

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    Reply Catherine Edwards May 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    This looks awesome and it will be nice to try something different next time the sun comes out. And not hard to find ingredients when you make your own, thanks for that!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 29, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      Let me know if you try it.

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    Reply Natasha Card May 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    This looks deeeelish !! I have a similar recipe but with pistachios, cumin corrainder etc coated onto chicken then sort of roasted. I can t wait to try this though as the pistachio mix is really not good with steak (discovered as a result of a cocktail tasting session before the BBQ guests arrived?!!)
    Thanks you

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      yeah more of a lamb thing pistachio, innit

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    Reply Tamsin Harriman May 29, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    That sounds amazing and surprisingly easy! Will definitely have to try making this. I don’t think I’ve ever had Nigerian food before. Now I’ve got to try it. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 30, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Do let me know what you think if you try it.

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    Reply Alicia (foodycat) June 2, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Trying this tonight. Although without onion powder – ocado sells a substance called Whitworth’s Dried Onions but I didn’t want to risk it!

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      Reply Helen June 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm

      Let me know what you think! Also the onions are just freeze dried I think so they’re not as bad as you think. I think.

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    Reply DVees August 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Yummy – I love suya!! Yours looks amazing. Even more impressed that you had the courage to try the stuff at Obalende Suya 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen August 19, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      yeah, not terribly appealing from the outside is it

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    Reply Jol September 2, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Sorry, bit off-topic but you have a couple of nice looking knives in the shots there. Not the Global but the little folder (looks like a more interesting type of Laguiole?) and the santoku in the last shot.

    Never heard of suya before. Must try.

    I love your site, BTW. It’s so rare now to come across someone with a genuine ‘voice’. Will subscribe immediately. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen September 2, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Yes and yes correctly identified knives! Both ace. Oh and thank you, I’m obviously very pleased you like the site!

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    Reply stellan January 12, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    My name is Stellan living in sweden, I lived in nigeria for 9 years when I was Little boy. I have not tastes suya since 1983 but just remembered how much I loved it. I have tried to find the spice in sweden but we do not have it. Are you able to send me some Suya spice to sweden?


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    Reply Nigerian Suya Recipe June 30, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Absolutely yummy! I am huge fan of Nigerian suya as well and I do it from time to time. During winter, I use my oven grill and when it gets sunny in summer, the BBQ in my back garden resumes duty :-)). You have a nice blog!

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