Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Peas and Patience

On Saturday I made akara, a Ghanaian black-eyed pea fritter. Though this may seem like an unremarkable event, I was amazed for two reasons:

1) Carolyn's cooking bylaw number 134 -- which states that the longer than expected a dish takes to prepare, the more likely it is to be a complete disaster -- received its most serious challenge to date.
2) I discovered that dried beans do not have to cook in a pot in order to be edible.

I was so taken back that the following day I bored at least two people at a brunch by reviewing these discoveries in detail. Now it is your turn.

Akara are a snack food from Ghana. You begin by soaking black-eyed peas for a few hours until the skins loosen and, theoretically, can be rubbed off. I soaked and soaked, but some of the beans really required more of a peeling than a rubbing to shed their skin. In my head, I could imagine a group of Ghanaian women sitting in a convivial circle under a shady tree, each with her bowl of black-eyed peas, gossiping about the neighbors and conferring about this year's crops. In this setting, rubbing the skins off of black-eyed peas might be quite a sociable, enjoyable affair. Standing under a naked florescent light bulb for an hour by yourself with a swarm of mosquitoes biting at your ankles is less fun. And every minute that passed, I was thinking to myself, there is no WAY these darn fritters are going to be worth it.

The skinned black-eyed peas looked as funny as leopards without their spots. I put the snowy-white beans in the food processor and added a bit of water until I had a paste. I added spices and minced onions and peppers, and began heating oil in a fry pan. It was at this point that I realized -- these beans are only going to cook for a few minutes! Can it be possible? I was convinced, more than ever, that the dish would end in calamity.

But, somehow, it worked. The fritters fried up nicely. They were a bit bland -- I'll be more generous with the spices next time -- but it was nothing a little hot sauce couldn't fix. The fitters would be great served in a pita like falafel, or with a side salad. Although the beans themselves aren't very flavorful, they could absorb many interesting flavor combos. Next time, I'll try some curried fritters, or maybe a fresh herb version. That is, once I find someone to sit with me and chat as I skin those beans!

There are
numerous akara recipes on the Web, all fairly similar. I worked from this one.

Akara (Black-eyed Pea Fritters)
Makes 24-30 fritters

2 cups / 270 grams dried black-eyed peas
1 onion, minced
½ teaspoon / 2.5 milliliters salt
1 chili pepper, minced
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying

Rinse peas under running water and then soak them in a bowl of water for a few hours or overnight. After they are soaked, rub them together between your hands to remove their skins. Rinse again to wash the skins away. Drain.

Put the beans in a food processor and slowly add water until they turn into a thick paste that will just stick to the back of a spoon. Add onion, salt, chili pepper, and cayenne. Mix well. Ensure the bottom of the pan is covered with oil and set over medium to medium-high heat. Fry spoonfuls of the batter, turning over after a few minutes until each side is golden brown.