While searching through my spice cupboard the other day, I came across a small packet pressed against the back of the wall. The crumpled bag was almost empty except for a couple lonely sticks of cinnamon, still smelling as fresh as it did the day I bought it. It was a part of my loot from a trip to Zanzibar that included a very successful tour of an old spice plantation. After a 15 hour bus ride to Dar es Salaam (in the African heat with no AC I might add), we ended up in Stone Town – an island off of Tanzania, in Zanzibar, that holds an incredible history of slavery, spice trade and religion.
We saw vanilla beans ripen on the vine, pulled cinnamon bark off of a tree and chewed whole fresh cloves until our mouths went numb and painted our lips with the lipstick fruit – achiote. We licked our lips as we tasted exotic fruits – the smelly durian (what some say “smells like hell, tastes like heaven), hairy rambutan and custard apple. We scooped out coconut flesh with our hands after our guide scaled a tree to grab us the ripe fruit. Our bellies were full with fruit and flavours that we knew we might never taste again.
That night we headed to the open air night market, packed with vendors and hungry patrons. Open fire pits held every kind of meat you could imagine – lamb, goat, sausages, beef, chicken, whole lobster, fish and shrimp. The flames licked the tandoori chicken that was tossed on the grill while naan bread expanded over the heat. Half-eaten corn cobs were strewn on the grounds and octopus tentacles coiled on the grill.
The smell of smoke and charred meat rose over the market and through the town. The aromas lingered in the air, long after the grills were packed up and the street cleaners began picking up the empty wooden skewers from the park.
We took in the sights, gazing over the water at the sea, a few fishing boats still bobbing in the water. The sun was going down, leaving in its place a beautiful sunset that disappeared too quickly . The muezzin called loudly from a nearby mosque while we devoured our food in the 40 degree heat. As the sweat dripped down our faces, our tongues still tingling from the spice, we were happy to be in the moment.
These Nigerian skewers remind me of that night. The sound of sizzling meat on the grill and the smell of spices makes me feel like I’m back in Africa. I can practically smell the sea water again and feel the humidity on my skin. The smell of cinnamon and cumin remind me of the spice tour and the aromas that rose from the farm. To offer relief from the spicy marinade, I topped these skewers with a creamy, sweet, roasted red pepper sauce, roasted peanuts for crunch and cilantro.
- 1 tbsp ground peanuts
- ½ tbsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp cumin
- ⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb of steak, flattened and cut into strips
- 2 chicken thighs, flattened and cut into strips
- 15 raw shrimp
- skewers soaked in water
- ½ cup greek yogurt
- ½ red pepper, roasted and skin removed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper
- cilantro, lime and crushed roasted peanuts for garnish
- Add ground peanuts and spices to a small mixing bowl and mix with olive oil to form a paste.
- Place the beef, chicken and shrimps in a large bowl and pour the marinade over top and combine together. Marinate 1 hour to overnight.
- When you're ready to cook, heat your grill to medium high. Thread the meat through the skewers and place on the grill. Cook for approx. 3 mins on each side (without moving them around) until cooked through. Remove from the heat and place on a platter.
- To make the red pepper sauce, place the greek yogurt, red pepper and olive oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Drizzle the red pepper sauce over top. Sprinkle peanuts and cilantro over top with a squeeze of lime.