Visit nearly any market in West Africa and you’ll find cooks producing skewers laden with Beef Suya. Traditionally served with fresh cut vegetables, as pictured above, Suya often is paired with Jollof Rice. Popular acclaim has elevated the pair to become, more than anything else, Nigeria’s national dishes.
With good reason. A flavorful coating dusts the beef and is seared into the meat when the flames flit over it. This ensures the thinnest of crusts, presenting a light initial crisp before melting into the tender juiciness beneath.
Then, there are the peanuts. Pulverized and mixed with the spices before layering the meat, peanuts contribute a savory, slightly sweet heft that works uniquely well with all manner of meats. As the flames dry roast the peanuts they combine with the spices to create a mixture tasting more than a little of Planter’s peanuts. Imagine wrapping a thin, tender slice of beef around three or four snack nuts. Uh-huh. Right?
A perfect companion is a spicy rice infused with tomatoes. Jollof resembles the “Spanish” rice accompanying many a meal at a Mexican restaurant, except a little more ethereal, owing to traces of ginger and curry.
By the way, this recipe registers fairly low on the Scoville scale. However, a Nigerian commented that the preparation works, but that he throws in a couple minced habanero peppers. Interesting, especially when he added that his relatives prefer their Jollof to be far hotter yet. Maybe someday, but for now this is a good introduction to Nigerian cuisine.
Food & Wine described Beef Suya in its June 2018 issue, and the opportunity to explore African cuisine appealed. Of course, this launched a search for a fitting accompaniment, and a little research overwhelmed with a single answer: Rice Jollof. Fortunately, a site called All That’s Jas offers good instructions.
The rice takes a little time to prepare, but not much more so than do other rices, and the beef marinates overnight. After that, the meat grills in minutes, as it’s sliced thinly. It’s not long before the smoke wafts and, closing your eyes, you imagine yourself in West Africa. Tasting completes the dream.
Nigerian Jollof Rice
- 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
- 1 onion, roughly chopped (*1)
- 1/4 cup oil (*2)
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper (*3)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups rice (*4)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
Puree the tomatoes, onion and bell pepper in a food processor.
Over medium flame, heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the spices and the garlic and sautee until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the rice, pureed vegetables, water and salt and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and cover the saucepan. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes.
1 – Two shallots is my preference.
2 – Palm oil is traditional, though it’s not always easy to find this far from Africa. Peanut oil is a good substitute, especially as it mirrors the peanuts in the Suya. “Plain” vegetable oil is fine too.
3 – I doubled it to two tablespoons, as I desired something a little spicier. It didn’t disappoint. As the text above suggests, part or even all of a chopped habanero pepper would make it even more striking. Be careful, though.
4 – For this recipe, jasmine rice worked well. Basmati rice also would be a good choice.
- 1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 cup canola oil (*5)
- 1 and 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, frozen 20 minutes and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1/2 lemon
- sliced onion, tomato and cucumber, for serving
Pulse the peanuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the spices. With the processer running, gradually add the oil until a thick paste forms.
Combine the short ribs and the peanut mixture in a bowl. Cover a refrigerate for at least six hours, up to overnight.
Set a grill to medium-low heat. Thread the meat onto skewers and brush them with oil. Place the skewers directly over the flame. Have a spray bottle filled with water handy to douse any flare-ups. After three minutes, flip the skewers and place them on another heated part of the grill. Cook for three more minutes, again, with a spray bottle at the ready.
Squeeze lemon over the skewers and serve them with sliced onion tomato and cucumber.
5 – Not surprisingly, I chose instead my old favorite, peanut oil. It’s perfect, obviously, for a peanut-based marinade.