Why It Works
- Soaking the peas helps loosen their skins.
- Removing the pea skins produces fritters with a uniform texture.
- Whisking aerates and lightens the batter, yielding fritters with creamy and fluffy interiors.
In Nigeria, akara―a golden fritter made from a seasoned batter of blended black-eyed peas―is part of a quintessential Saturday breakfast, sandwiched between slices of soft white bread and served with a steaming mug of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, or served alongside bowls of porridge. Made at home or purchased from street vendors, it’s pleasantly crunchy on the outside and pillowy soft within.
You’ll find other types of akara across West Africa, and in the diaspora. In Brazil, it’s known as acarajé, where it arrived at the start of the transatlantic slave trade centuries ago. Acarajé most closely resembles a type of Nigerian akara known as akara Ijesha; both fritters have a super crunchy exterior, incorporate seafood, and are fried in palm oil. Akara Ijesha adds shrimp or prawns to the batter, while acarajé fritters are usually sliced open, stuffed with the crustaceans, and topped with a nut paste and salsa.
Akara come in various shapes and sizes, from small, light, and creamy fritters to larger, denser ones, and they can be fried in a variety of oils. This recipe is for a the most common version of akara. To begin, I soak the peas then break them up in a blender. This process helps loosen the skins in preparation for the main event: removing all of them. I set up a colander over a bowl and slowly pour the liquid off from the peas; the goal is to pour off as much of the floating skins as possible while leaving the peas behind. Pick out any peas that might have slipped through, return them to the bowl, cover with more water, and repeat until they’re skin-free. With this preparation, you’re rewarded with even-textured fritters with a fuller bean flavor; leaving the skins on produces crumbly fritters.
The batter comes together quickly in a food processor or blender: I purée the skinned peas, fresh chile, onion, water, and salt until a cohesive, gritty paste forms (the grittiness adds crunch to the fritter’s exterior). A final step of whisking the batter before frying aerates and lightens the it, which, when fried, produces fluffier fritters.
Eating akara is easy. Besides sandwiching the fritters, you can serve it alongside ogi (a fermented cornstarch custard, also known as akamu or koko, that’s sweetened and topped with milk) or sweetened oatmeal, or dip it in yaji (a blend of chiles, ginger, garlic, onions, and salt whose spiced nutty notes go well with akara’s mellow beany flavor). You can also skip frying the batter and prepare it as you would pancakes or waffles.
- 1 cup dried black-eyed peas (6 3/4 ounces; 190g), picked of any debris and rinsed
- 1/4 large red onion (about 2 1/2 ounces; 75g), roughly chopped
- 1/3 fresh habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper, stemmed
- 1 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- Vegetable oil, for frying (about 2 cups; 475ml)
- Soft white bread, for serving
In a medium bowl, cover peas with 2 inches cold water. Let soak at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour (this short soaking time helps loosen the skins without overly softening the peas).
Drain soaked peas, then transfer to a countertop blender or food processor along with 1 quart (945ml) water. Pulse to slightly break up peas, about ten 1-second pulses. Pour into a medium bowl and let stand at room temperature for up to 30 minutes (skins will float to top as they separate from the peas).
Set a colander over a large bowl. Slowly pour soaking water into the colander while using a free hand to keep the peas in the soaking bowl; the goal is to pour off as many of the floating skins as possible while leaving the peas behind. Pick out any peas that landed in the colander and return them to the bowl, then discard skins and soaking water. Cover peas with water, and repeat process until peas are nearly free of skins (you may need to gently massage the peas with your hands to separate any stubborn skins).
Transfer skinned peas to a clean colander, rinse under cool running water, then return to medium bowl. Add fresh water to cover and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes (this will further soften the peas for blending).
Drain peas, then transfer to a countertop blender or food processor. Add 1/2 cup (120ml) water, onion, chile pepper, and salt. Blend, scraping down sides occasionally with a flexible spatula, until a smooth, thick paste has formed, about 3 minutes. Transfer paste to a medium bowl and whisk until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. In a wok or Dutch oven, heat two inches of oil over medium-high heat to 350°F (175°C). Dip a heatproof spoon into the hot oil, scoop up roughly 1 tablespoon of batter, then carefully lower spoonful of batter into oil until batter is submerged and releases from spoon. It can be formed into a little football shape by molding the batter as it slides off the side of the spoon into the hot oil (rather than allowing the batter to spread as it slides off the spoon). Working quickly, repeat the process with 7 more scoops of batter (for a batch of 8). Fry, using a slotted spoon or spider to turn pieces halfway through, until akara are slightly puffed and golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer to prepared baking sheet to drain.
Return oil to 350°F (175°C), and repeat with remaining batter. Serve fritters warm with soft white bread.
Countertop blender or food processor.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Akara batter can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. To defrost, transfer to the refrigerator at least 6 hours before using. When ready to fry, whisk to loosen and aerate batter, then proceed as directed in Step 6.
Fried akara can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 1 month (defrost in the refrigerator overnight). To reheat, preheat oven to 320°F (160°C). Transfer akara to a rimmed baking sheet and heat until warm, about 10 minutes if refrigerated, or about 20 minutes if previously frozen.