Acarajé – Black-Eyed Pea and Shrimp Fritters

Acarajé is a dish made from peeled black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in dendê (palm oil). It is found in Nigerian and Brazilian cuisine. The dish is traditionally encountered in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia, especially in the city of Salvador, often as street food, and is also found in most parts of Nigeria, Ghana and the Republic of Benin.

It is served split in half and then stuffed with vatapá and caruru – spicy pastes made from shrimp, ground cashews, palm oil and other ingredients. The most common way of eating acarajé is splitting it in half, pouring vatapá and/or caruru, a salad made out of green and red tomatoes, fried shrimps and home made hot sauce. A vegetarian version is typically served with hot peppers and green tomatoes. In Nigeria, it is commonly eaten for breakfast with gruel made from millet or corn.

Akara (as it is known in southwest and southeast Nigeria) was a recipe taken to Brazil by the slaves from the West African coast. It is called “akara” by the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria and in the Yorubaland of south-western Nigeria, “kosai” by the Hausa people of Nigeria or “koose” in Ghana and is a popular breakfast dish, eaten with millet or corn porridge.

Today in Bahia, Brazil, most street vendors who serve acaraje are women, easily recognisable by their all-white cotton dresses and headscarves and caps. The image of these women, often simply called “Baianas”, frequently appears in artwork from the region of Bahia. Acaraje, however, is typically available outside of the state of Bahia as well, including the markets of Rio de Janeiro.

In Candomblé

Acarajé is a fixture in the Afro-Brazilian religious traditions of Candomblé. Although it is the ritual food of the goddess Iansan, the first acarajé in a candomblé ritual is offered to Exu.

Black-Eyed Pea and Shrimp Fritters - Acarajé
Acarajé are a popular street food snack in Brazil, especially at the beach. Black-eyed peas, seasoned with ground dried shrimp and onions, are shaped into balls and deep fried in palm oil, then split and filled with a spicy shrimp and onion filling. Though dried shrimp are a traditional ingredient in acaraje, they tend to impart a very strong flavour. In this milder version, the cooked fritter is split and then filled with fresh shrimp and caramelised onions.
For the filling
  • 1 onion
  • 1 cup small shrimp, fresh or frozen, shelled and de-veined
  • 2 tablespoons palm oil or olive oil
For the fritters
  • 2 cans black-eyed peas
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red chilli pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • palm oil and/or vegetable oil, for frying
To make the filling
  1. Slice onion very thinly. Spread onions out on a skillet with the olive oil or palm oil, and cook on low heat until they are golden brown (about 15 minutes). Add shrimp and sauté until shrimp are pink. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
To make the fritters
  1. Thoroughly drain the black-eyed peas and place them in the food processor. Roughly chop the onion and garlic, and add it to the peas.
  2. Clean the pepper of seeds and add to the processor.
  3. Process mixture just until well blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add flour by the tablespoon, until mixture is stiff enough to hold a shape. Divide into 15 pieces, and form into balls or ovals.
  5. Heat 5cm palm oil and/or vegetable oil in a pot on medium high heat. Fry several fritters at a time until browned, turning once, about 5 minutes. Drain fritters on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Fritters can be kept warm in a 90°C oven.
  6. Split fritters and fill with a spoonful of the onion and shrimp mixture. Serve warm.
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