Acaraje are a Brazilian specialty, a popular street food from Bahia, a region of Brazil known for its beautiful beaches. Acarajé are the South American incarnation of Nigerian akara, which are similar fritters made from black-eyed peas. In Brazil, acarajé are typically seasoned with dried shrimp, and once fried they are split open and filled with spicy Brazilian favorites like caruru and vatapa - making them something like tacos.I have a quick and easy recipe for acarajé that simplifies things by starting with canned black eyed peas. But to achieve the true texture and flavor of traditional acarajé, the skins and "eyes" must be removed from dried black-eyed peas, a somewhat laborious task (though there are tricks for making it easier). The skins and caritas (little faces) are what give black eyed peas their earthy flavor - once they are removed the remaining interior of the bean is sweet and starchy and can be ground into a smooth and fluffy batter. Properly prepared, acarajé are brown and crispy on the outside and white on the inside, with a soft texture that is very similar to hush puppies or falafel. They have a mild flavor (though you can spice them up with chile peppers and dried shrimp of course) that goes well with different fillings.
Make appetizer-size acaraje and stuff them with the traditional Brazilian fillings or whatever sounds good - pimento cheese (as pictured), ham salad, shrimp salad, sour cream, sautéed mushrooms, salsa.. the possibilities are endless.
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Yield: About 15 appetizer-size fritters
- 2 cups dried black eyed peas
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon cumin (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon chile powder (or to taste)
- Several dried shrimp, if desired
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Rinse the dried black-eyed peas and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse beans briefly several times, until beans start to break into large pieces (but don't pulverize them).
- Transfer black-eyed peas into a large bowl, and cover them with water. Stir the beans with your hands, rubbing them together gently. Carefully drain water off of the top of the beans, allowing the loosened skins to pour off with the water.
- Repeat procedure: cover the beans with water, rub beans with hands, and drain off the excess water, removing more skins. Continue to rinse the beans until most of the skins are removed. Beans will appear mostly white.
- Cover the beans with water again and soak beans for 2-3 hours. Coarsely chop the onion and add it to the beans for the last 30 minutes of soaking, along with 1 teaspoon salt.
- When the beans are finished soaking, rinse them well and remove any remaining skins.
- Return beans to the food processor, along with the chopped onion. Add the garlic (peeled and coarsely chopped), the cumin, the chile powder, the dried shrimp (if using), and the panko bread crumbs. Process mixture until it forms a thick, smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste and mix well. The batter should be smooth and well blended, and should hold its shaped when formed into balls.
- Heat 1-2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan or deep fat fryer to 350 degrees. While the oil is heating, shape the batter into 2 inch oblong fritters.
- Fry fritters in batches until dark golden brown. Carefully remove fritters from the hot oil with a slotted spoon, and place them on paper towels to cool slightly.
- Slice fritters in half and spoon filling of choice inside. Serve warm.