Nothing is more southern than black eyed peas and fritters. But black eyed pea fritters? What’s that? Well, it’s ‘Accara’ and it’s largely unknown outside west Africa where it originated. African immigrants to Brazil call it “Acaraje” and stuff it with shrimp. For hundreds of years ladies in white dresses and turbans have sold them on the beach in the state of Bahia. These Bahianas originated the woman owned micro capitalist business model in Brazil that supported their families and provided some of the tastiest street food on earth.
Question is, why isn’t Accara better known? And the answer is – at the front end there’s some seriously tedious prep involved. To make Accara dried black eyed peas need to be soaked and rubbed between the hands to remove the skins (and the little black eyes) and it takes time. If you skip this step and just squash up the peas with the skins you will end up needing to have those same tough little skins power washed out of your dental work so don’t try it.
How to make this task bearable? You space it out. Way out. If I’m having these as appetizers for a party on Saturday night I put the peas in a large pot Friday late afternoon and cover them with hot water. They can be left covered or put in the fridge over night. Next day put the pot in the sink, fill both hands with peas and start rubbing hard. As the skins come off they will float to the top and you can pour them off. Refill the pot with water and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat.
I stagger it between other things that are less boring, like cleaning the toilet bowl or reading the EU regulations relating to the allowable shapes of bananas and zucchini (yes, they exit). Eventually all the peas will be skinless and eyeless and you can proceed to the easy part. And note. There will be stubborn outliers who hang on to their skins in an obvious attempt to drive you nuts and make you question why you thought this whole Accara project was doable. They cannot be defeated so just pick them out and toss. At this point your peas will look like this:
The rest is smooth sailing and involves putting the black eyed peas and other ingredients into the food processor or blender and blending to the consistency of bean dip or oatmeal. If it’s extremely stiff add a teaspoon of water. But be careful, if it’s too watery it will fall apart in the fryer.
And as I note in the recipe below it may be fried in your choice of vegetable oil, lard, coconut oil or dende oil which is also called red palm oil. Red Palm Oil is widely used in Africa and prized for its nutritional value. It has a gorgeous deep orange color and a distinct flavor that is authentically west African. Definitely worth trying at least once.
After frying the fritters should be placed on a rack to drain. However, since they are fried for such a short time they don’t absorb much oil so you can skip the paper towels unless you’re extremely fat phobic. If you are cooking them ahead of time just place them in a very slow oven (about 150 degrees) to warm up.
The other good news about this recipe that somewhat compensates for your excessive pea shucking efforts is accara’s freezeability. That is to say that they taste almost the same warmed up in the toaster oven as they do coming out of the pan. A couple of hot ones with some eggs & ham makes for a great breakfast. So get out the pot and starting soaking those peas. You’ll be in for a treat!
- For the fritters:
- 2 cups black eyed peas
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 2 tsps salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. cayenne
- oil for frying (can be lard, coconut, dende (red palm oil), or vegetable)
- For the filling:
- 1 lb. small shrimp
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons garlic
- parsley or cilantro to taste
- For the peas:
- Soak dried peas in water overnight with enough water to cover. Drain & pour in hot water to cover. Let soak for 30 minutes then rub the peas in your hands until the skin falls away. These will float to the top and can be carefully poured off.
- Drain the peas and put in a food processor with all other ingredients and process until relatively smooth. It should have the consistency of bean dip. If it's too thick add a little water.
- Pour the oil into a straight sided pan to about the depth of 2 inches and heat to 360. If you don't have a thermometer drop a small spoonful of the mixture into the fat. If it's hot enough the outside will brown almost immediately.
- Drop the mixture by spoonfuls into the hot oil careful not to crowd.
- Fry about a minute on each side or until golden brown, then remove and drain.
- For the filling:
- Saute the garlic in oil or butter for a couple of minutes until soft then add the shrimp and cook for several more minutes.
- Add chopped parsley or cilantro, give it a stir and stuff the fritters or add on the side.
- Can be served with pickled vegetables..