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Acarajé – Black-Eyed Pea Fritters from Bahia, Brazil

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acaraje-vatapa-shrimp

Acarajé is a traditional street food in Brazil, it is especially popular in the state of Bahia. This fritter is light in texture and bold in flavor: the red palm oil (where it is deep-fried) and the unique ingredients in the filling make the acarajé extremely distinctive. This is a little piece of some of the best things that Brazil has to offer! If you have been to Bahia, you know exactly what I am talking about. Enjoy!

Makes about 10 to 15 cakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound black-eyed peas
  • 1 pound white onions (3 medium onions), roughly chopped
  • Salt
  • 1 ½ cups red palm oil
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, skin-on, whole

Directions:

In a large bowl, cover peas with about 2 quarts of water and let soak overnight or up to 24 hours.

While still soaking, rub the beans between the palms of your hands to free the outer skins, which should float to the surface. Scoop off the skins and discard. Drain. Re-fill bowl with water so more skins float to surface (do that as many times as necessary to remove as many skins as possible). Rubbing handfuls of beans vigorously between the hands assists in this process. After several changes of water, drain, and individually remove any skins that are left. This process will take a long time, and there is no way around it.

In a food processor, process the peas and the onion. If it does not fit all at once in the food processor, do it in batches, transferring it to a large clean mixing bowl.  Once all peas and onions have been processed, season with salt. Beat the batter for a few minutes with a wooden spoon, until it is light and fluffy.

In a large pan, heat red palm oil and vegetable oil. Place the whole onion in the pan. With a large wooden spoon, form balls of batter and gently drop into the hot oil. Fry small batches of batter for about 6 minutes (or 3 to 4 minutes on each side). The cakes are done once they turn bright orange and crispy on the outside. Remove from oil, and transfer to a plate covered with paper towel, allowing cooling for a couple of minutes.

Carefully carve a slit on the cake, across the longest side, and fill with Vatapá, hot pepper sauce, finely chopped tomatoes or cilantro (or a mixture of everything). Serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes:

Acarajé is traditional street food from the Brazilian state of Bahia. There, the baianas (beautiful ladies wearing a traditional white garment and headescarf) prepare and sell these cakes on stations filled up with delicious typical recipes and ingredients from that specific part of Brazil. It is such a wonderful tradition that only those who have been there can picture what I am talking about. Everyone who visits Bahia falls in love with the food prepared by the baianas.

I have to confess that after making this recipe from scratch, my level of respect for those ladies (the baianas) has sky rocketed! This apparently easy fritter has some little tricks that must NOT be overlooked! They are critical to the success of the recipe. For example, peeling the peas takes forever (I think it took me 2 hours)! But this process is very necessary so the cakes become light and fluffy. Also, the red palm oil used for frying will give unique color and add a very distinctive flavor that cannot be replaced by any other oil. The onion that is dropped whole in the frying pan prevents the oil from burning. Now, isn’t that wonderful?!  Before making this traditional fritter from Bahia, I researched several recipes and watched several videos on youtube. I was very careful before posting this recipe because this was something I had eaten several times before, but I had not dared to make it since I knew that the process was really unique and full of tricks. So hands down to the baianas! I worship them now!!!

Let me say one last thing: this not a very healthy recipe! But it is so incredibly delicious and unique! I usually make things that are way less time consuming and much healthier. But come on, once in a while everyone deserves a treat, right?! Making this wonderful Brazilian tradition, and sharing with my family, was a great experience for all of us! And now that I live in the United States there is no way out: if I crave Brazilian food, I better get to kitchen and make it myself!

Click here for Vatapá recipe.

Red palm oil can be found at Latin or African markets, or at international grocery stores.

acaraje-black-eyed-pea-shrimp-fritter

Serve this delight with extra hot sauce if you like really spicy. It is messy to eat! Use a fork if you wish, but in Bahia this fritter is served wrapped in a paper napkin.

acaraje-shrimp-fritter-black-eyed-pea

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