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Suya is an African shish kebab which consists of thinly sliced meat and peanut-based seasonings. It is a staple of Nigerian cuisine. Served by vendors in both cities and villages, suya can often be found even at night.
Shish kebab refers to any meat that is skewered and roasted. There are many variations of shish kebab worldwide, but Americans and other nationalities are generally used to cubed pieces of meat alternating with fruits and vegetables. Although vegetables can be added with success to a suya recipe, the traditional food includes only the meat. Also, the meat—beef, most often—is cut into short, thin strips instead of cubes, more closely resembling Asian skewered meat.
Suya tastes little like Asian meat, however. The meat is always coated in a peanut spice powder prior to grilling. This powder contains ground peanuts, called kulikuli in Nigeria, and cayenne pepper and may also contain paprika, onion or garlic powder and ground ginger. When making this dish at home, paprika can be substituted for the cayenne pepper to create less spicy suya.
To make the spicy rub, roasted peanuts must be ground into a powder. This can be done with a traditional mortar and pestle or with more modern appliances, like a food processor or spice mill. When grinding peanuts, care must be taken not to over-grind, which will create peanut butter. The resulting oil is usually removed by wrapping the powder in a paper towel and squeezing to remove the moisture.
Once the peanuts are ground, the other spices are mixed in thoroughly. The meat is then coated with the mixture. Some recipes suggest letting the meat sit for about half an hour once coated before grilling to better flavor the meat. Although many recipes call for just the meat on the skewer, onions, bell peppers, or tomatoes can be included as well.
If wooden skewers are used, they should either be soaked in water for half an hour before skewering the meat, or the ends should be wrapped in foil after the meat is skewered. These precautions help prevent the wooden skewers from burning during cooking. Once skewered, the kebabs are placed on outdoor grills or broiled in an oven. They should be turned once during cooking. Some recipes also suggest reserving some of the peanut spice mixture for an extra topping once meat is cooked.
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