My cooking champions “new African cuisine”, which, now more than ever, is being defined and elaborated on by black chefs. Oto, a classic west African yam dish, is emblematic of new beginnings, and my twist on it speaks to a hope for turning a page for black representation in the food industry. Suya, a Nigerian spice blend, is traditionally the griot of the meat grill, but can be applied to all sorts, such as today’s vegetables. It uplifts everyday produce and opens a door to west African flavour.
Mashed yam (oto) with eggs and scotch bonnet salsa
Most “classic” versions of oto use yam, but it can also be made with mashed ripe plantain. Here is one of my many takes on the dish to celebrate August’s coming New Yam Festival.
Prep 30 min
Cook 45 min
For the oto
1 medium yam (about 900g – I used puna yam)
1 tbsp brown sugar
25g unsalted butter
4 tbsp red palm oil (substitute with 1 tbsp turmeric, for colour and earthiness, but it’s no like-for-like swap)
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tbsp dried thyme)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
3½ tbsp rapeseed oil, plus extra for frying
For the salsa
½ medium red onion, peeled and finely diced
4 spring onions, sliced on the angle
6-8 ripe plum or cherry vine tomatoes, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced with a pinch of salt
½ red scotch bonnet, deseeded
5-6 tbsp roughly chopped coriander
20ml extra virgin olive oil
¾ tbsp grains of paradise (or coarse ground black pepper)
4-6 soft-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
1 avocado, stoned, peeled and sliced
50-75g roasted nuts of your choice – I roast my own groundnuts and cashews in suya spice
Flaky sea salt
Fresh coriander or parsley leaves
For the oto, bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with cold water – this is for the yam once cut and peeled, to prevent oxidisation. Slice the yam into 1cm discs, then use a paring knife to peel off the thick bark. Dice the flesh into evenly sized cubes, and put in the bowl of water while you prepare the rest. Once all the yam is cut, drain and add it to the pan of now-boiling water. Add the brown sugar, then leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes, until soft to a fork. Don’t let the yam overcook, or it will be too mushy to shape later.
While the yam cooks, mix all the salsa ingredients together in a bowl.
Drain the yam, then mash with the butter while it’s still steaming. Working quickly now, gradually fold in the palm oil and stir in so the mix is evenly golden throughout. Next, sieve in half the cornflour and mix again, then fold in the thyme, garlic and spring onions. Keep mashing until the mixture has a smooth consistency and an even colour.
Leave to cool a little, then divide into eight to 12 even portions (80-100g each). Mould into patties, then dust each patty on both sides with the remaining cornflour. If you like, you can chill them now for cooking later – this will also help the patties bind.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the patties in batches for four to five minutes each side, until crisp and golden. Keep warm while you cook the rest.
Serve with soft-boiled eggs, sliced avocado, a sprinkle of crushed nuts, salt, and a few coriander or parsley leaves and sliced chilli.
Roasted suya vegetables
Suya is the king of west African barbecue spices – potent, complex and robust. If you’ve ever used cajun spice or harissa paste to enliven grilling or roasting, suya should be your friend. I encourage you to be creative in the ways you use it: this isn’t about trying to make a “Nigerian dish”, but introducing west African flavour to your daily cooking. The spice mix makes 320-350g, so keep the rest in your spice cupboard.
Prep 15 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4 as a side
For the vegetables
250-300g washed and trimmed vegetables (eg kale, spring greens, broccoli, courgette, aubergine, cauliflower), washed and trimmed
For the dry suya spice mix (makes 320-350g for your spice cupboard)
100g peanut powder (or finely ground chopped roasted cashew or peanuts)
4 tbsp ground hot pepper (or cayenne pepper)
4 tbsp smoked paprika
4 tbsp ground ginger
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp onion powder
5 ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground grains of paradise (or ground black pepper)
1 tsp salt
For the suya marinade
2 tbsp dry suya spice mix (above)
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger (about 5cm), peeled and grated
1 sprig fresh thyme or oregano, leaves picked (optional)
1 tbsp groundnut or coconut oil
Flaky sea salt, to taste
First, make the dry suya spice rub. Put the ground nuts in a bowl with all the other ingredients and stir to combine. Transfer to a clean, airtight container, seal and store in a cool, dark place; it will keep for up to six months.
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/gas 5. In a bowl, combine all the suya marinade ingredients with a whisk, then taste and adjust for seasoning. Add the vegetables to the bowl and toss, making sure they are generously coated in the oily marinade. Tumble into an oven tin and roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender, crunchy and slightly browned. Serve warm.
• Zoe Adjonyoh’s book, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: Traditional Ghanaian Recipes Remixed for the Modern Kitchen, is published by Octopus at £25.