Akara: Nigerian Bean Fritters

Akara is one of those foods that can absolutely suck to make–but it’s delicious when you get it right. If you’ve never had them before, they are like a cross between felafel and hushpuppies… but with black eye peas, onions, and peppers. There’s nothing complicated here, but the first step–peeling the beans–is a mountain. I found out that you can sometimes find peeled beans in African markets for this purpose, but when I first tried to learn how to make it (and the attempts go back years), I only had the raw beans. You might think that you can just skip that step all together–NOPE! There’s no alternative, but as I’ve learned, there are a few cheat codes.

There’s a Southern (American) tradition of eating black eye peas on new year’s day for luck and wealth, but I didn’t get around to it this year. The blog needed a reboot, though, so I’m going to pull everything together to start the new year well.

If you decide to use raw beans, you have to get the clear outer shell off before you grind them up, or the texture will be way too crunchy, and it’ll probably burn. Blanche them in hot water, and then transfer to a large pot of ice water to loosen it up. Then, rub them between your palms to get rid of the shells. it still takes a lot of patience, but it is much better than trying to peel them without this step. Traditionally, you just peel them in a large bowl of water (the shells float, the beans sink) and change the water frequently. I’m supposed to describe how connected you’ll feel to your food but…it really isn’t fun–and I actually like to cook challenging things.

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Now for another cheat code: you can find peeled black-eye peas in some African/International markets. It saves so much time…let’s go with that.

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Next, you need to purée the beans with onions, bell peppers, habanero pepper(s), and dried crayfish until a thick, smooth batter forms. I know this technically means it’s not vegetarian, but as I’ve said, most Nigerian recipes are not. You can leave the crayfish out though, and it still works! The crayfish just adds savory flavor.

Do your best to blend all the beans fully,  or the akara will be crunchy– and not in a good way. For example, I took that picture right before I noticed it wasn’t ready. I had to blend it for another minute to get it right. You can try to add a few tablespoons of water if it won’t blend on its own, but only small amounts–water and hot oil don’t mix. Oh, and you’ll probably need to add extra salt to this one, otherwise it’ll taste like you didn’t add any at all.

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Then you just fry it spoonful by spoonful until golden on both sides. If you do it correctly, they will be fluffy in the middle. I ran out of oil this time, but it’s more efficient to deep fry these (I pan-fried them here). Each one will look a little different, and that’s normal– just make sure you get that golden-brown color or the inside will still be raw.

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The way you eat these depends on where you are: my dad grew up eating them with bread for breakfast in Nigeria, but you’ll also eat them at Nigerian parties (if the host is up for the challenge). In Brazil, I’ve heard they call it Akarajé and use larger pieces of shrimp and other fillings inside the fritters. In parts of Gambia and Senegal you might see other sauces added, and in Colombia I’ve eaten it as a side dish (called Buñuelos de Frijol).  This time,  we ate it with Chimichurri– we’re all about that fusion.

Here’s to a decade of wealth!

Let’s cook.

You’ll need:

4 Cups Black Eye Peas, blanched and peeled

1 Bell Pepper, minced

1/2 Onion, minced

1 Habañero Pepper, minced

1-2 Tbs of Salt, to taste

1 Tbs Dried Thyme

1 Tbs Black Pepper

1 Tbs Dried Crayfish

1-2 Tbs Black Pepper

3 Cups Vegetable Oil

  1. Combine peeled beans, onion, peppers, spices, thyme, and dried crayfish in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding small amounts of water.
  2. Pre-heat oil on medium-high heat until you see streaks (this means the oil is hot). Add tablespoons of the batter to the oil in batches. Spoon oil over the top to speed up cooking.
  3. Flip once the akara is golden on the bottom side, and fry until cooked evenly.
  4. Drain on a rack with paper towels.
  5. Plate and serve hot.

Done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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