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.


Jeanne said...


I was just thinking about you this morning. The news from Zimbabwe is so grim that I can't help but worry if you and your husband are OK - and your post proves that you are (well, as OK as can be expected!).

I am also amazed that you can eat dried beans/peas that have not been boiled - who knew? These sound a lot like an African falafel :)

Take care of yourself...

katie said...

The chickpeas in falafel go through the very same process (well, except that I never get rid of the skins). They are soaked thoroughly and the frying takes care of all the required cooking. Thanks for the variation.

~ Sil in Corea said...

I hope you don't mind if I pass your website on to friends who are looking for new recipes. I also marvelled that one could eat dried legumes without boiling (or roasting, with a little nod to the 'peanut gallery').
Hope all is well with you. The news stirs my concern for you.
Hugs from cold Corea,
~ Sil

masduqi said...

I like your blog friend...
its so beautiful...!

Alisa said...

Thank you, prepared it for my husband, he was very happy! Thank you!

Liz said...

I grew up in Nigeria and we also ate this dish, called Kosai in northern Nigeria. It does take a long time to remove skins, but I usually do it sitting in front of a good movie, and it just passes the time. I always make kosai on New Years Day. Makes me hungry just thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of black-eyed-pea fritters. They would go over nicely here in the Southern US!

otehlia cassidy said...

I love your blog. I first had these fritters in Brazil, where they are called Acaraje, and have shrimp added. I learned to cook African food in West Africa and am trying to expand my repertoire. Thanks for the great recipes. Keep writing!

Sorina said...

Beautiful photos! I really like your site.

otehlia cassidy said...

What a great blog. I tried these bean fritters, but in Brazil where they are called Acaraje. Love to read about all of your adventures.

Lori said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences here on your blog.

Vogaz said...

well i always search for diffrent things to try..
and many thnaks for sharing this with us..