This recipe is from West Africa. It can be made with various ingredients; beef, chicken, lamb, shrimp or even vegetables. The version described is made with chicken breasts. It should be noted that the chicken most American's are familiar with are meatier, more tender and less flavorful that chicken found in much of the less-industrial world. These kebabs have a very savory and pleasing taste that is interesting but easy on the palate. Accompanying the Suya Kebabs is a recipe for Jollof rice which is also from West Africa and a simple directions for making non-alcoholic "Ginger Beer." The recipe is adapted from Fran Osseso-Asare's intriguing book, "Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa." The recipe is actually a lot easier than it looks!

If you decide to use bamboo skewers for this recipe, soak them in water for one hour before using so that they won't burn. (you can also use aluminum foil to shield the ends). Metal skewers are fine too. Apparently in West Africa skewers are shorter than the ones typically found in American grocery stores.

The Suya kebabs are first marinated and then rolled in "tankora" powder before they are grilled.

Kebab Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 pounds of chicken breast cut into kebab sized cubes

Marinade: (note place all these ingredients in a small food processor or blender and chop finely. If you want to be "old school" use a mortar and pestle!)

  • 1 inch of peeled fresh ginger root
  • 3 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube (optional, if used tried to find one without MSG)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Blend all of these ingredients and then in a bowl mix them with the cubed meat and marinate for at least 15 mins.

Tankora Powder Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of dry roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 1/4 cup of roasted corn meal (roast in the oven or in a heavy pan till lightly brown, only takes a few minutes. If using a pan, stir frequently)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground chili pepper (not adjust according to strength of chilies and/or your guests tolerance)
  • 1/2 tsp of dried ginger powder
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (omit if using salted peanuts)
  • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper

Kebab Preparation:

  1. Powder the peanuts with a spice mill, a mortal and pestle or buy putting them in between some wax paper or a plastic ziploc bag and smash with a hammer until finely powdered.
  2. Mix all of the Tankora ingredients together.
  3. After the meat has been sufficiently marinaded, skewer the meat and vegetables. Alternate the meat with sweet peppers or onion for a bit more variety.
  4. Coat the skewered meat with the tankora powder. Do this by rolling the skewers if the meat is firm or covering the skewers with the powder and firmly pressing it into the meat.
  5. For best grilling results, lightly coat the prepared skewers with peanut oil using a pastry brush. This will keep the meat tender.
  6. Grill skewers either on a gas or charcoal grill our broil on the top shelf of the oven.

Jollof Rice Ingredients:

A good complement to the Suya Kebabs is Jollof Rice. Due in part to the strong historical connection between West Africa and the Caribbean, this dish is very similar to Jambalaya. This recipe is adapted from

  • 1 pound diced chicken (note beef or shrimp may be added or substituted)
  • Salt and ground white pepper, to taste
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2-3 chilies (hot peppers), finely chopped
  • 1 large can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 tomato paste
  • 8 oz each of assorted chopped vegetables, e.g. carrots, green beans . . .
  • mushrooms and capsicums (sweet or bell peppers)
  • 2 cups long-grain rice

Jollof Rice Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in deep fry-pan and fry the meat or chicken pieces until brown.
  2. Remove meat from oil and add onions garlic and chilies and sauté until the onions brown.
  3. In heavy sauce pan add tomatoes, tomato paste, half the combined vegetables and 1/2 cup of stock and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  4. Stir well, adjust seasoning and simmer on low heat for 5-7 minutes. Add this vegetable sauce to the meat mixture in the saucepan and simmer gently.
  5. Add meat, rice and the remainder of the stock. Cover pot and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the remainder of vegetables to top of rice and cook for another 5 minutes or until rice is tender. Be very sure that the heat is just high enough to bubble as the tomato and tomato paste might burn. If necessary add small amounts of water and cook longer to ensure the rice is sufficiently soft.

Note: If adding shrimp to the dish, do so in the last 5 minutes, but make sure it is fully cooked before consuming it.

Ginger Beer Ingredients:

Ginger beer goes great with Suya and Jollof Rice. This recipe is adapted from "The Congo Cookbook". Ginger beer can have quite a ginger bite to it (not gingerly at all!) so adjust the amount of fresh ginger or water to your preference.

  • 3 or 4 large fresh ginger roots sections (not ground ginger!)
  • juice of two limes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 quarts of boiling water

Ginger Beer Preparation:

  1. Peel the ginger and either shred it with a grater or in a food processor.
  2. In a large container (stainless steel or oven-proof glass) and ginger, cloves and cinnamon.
  3. Let brew for one or more hours (the more the merrier).
  4. Strain mixture into a pitcher either with cheesecloth (folded) or a very fine stainless steel screen. If using the cheesecloth you can squeeze the cloth at the end to get every precious drop.
  5. Add lime juice and sugar and stir. If the drink is too strong, just add more water.

Serve over ice or at room temperature.

Recipe by T. Johnston-O'Neill
Photo by Shari K. Johnston-O'Neil

Recipe by T. Johnston-O'Neill

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