One of the joys of cooking is cooking for others. Knowing that someone will be happily fed and nourished by eating something created with such love and attention is ever so rewarding. Passing food around a table, with guests sighing, until that brave person reaches out for more only to realise it’s all gone, these and much more are cherished memories of sharing food with family and friends.
As a child, I did more eating and sharing than cooking, but now I enjoy the best from those childhood days combined with hosting duties as an adult, and no ordinary one, but one who cooks for a living. Much is expected of me and I always look forward to such moments when I can make people happy by feeding them well. I often cook treats that take me back to wondrous childhood days, happy days of innocence and joy. One of such memorable treats is, ‘àkàrà’.
These deep fried balls of mashed black-eyed beans, onions, peppers, and spices, are nostalgic of Sunday mornings after church; with its warming aroma wafting around the house. I remember running to the kitchen, impatiently asking, “hmm…where is the akara? stealing one when the cook turned his back and running upstairs to feign hunger, as we were not allowed to have any until they were served on the table. Akara is a popular treat in West Africa, specially made by the Yoruba people in the Southern parts of Nigeria. It is called kosai by Hausa people of the North, and kosee by Ghanaians. Palm oil is usually added or used to fry the batter but more people increasingly use plain vegetable oils. Akara is also a popular street food in Brazil, one of many lasting traditions that migrated with African slaves, who formed a large part of the Brazilian society. Bahianas, as they are called, women of Bahia dressed in white with lovely head scarfs are famous for serving these, known as àcàràjé which in direct translation in the Yoruba language means, ‘come and eat àkàrà‘ from àkàrà + onje (which means food), while in some parts of Lagos, Nigeria, you can still hear the women calling out, àcàràjé!
Akara is the deep fried version of moi moi, which has more water added and steamed to form a pudding-like texture. This is such a popular dish at my Supper Clubs and a favourite of my vegan and vegetarian family members, friends and guests. I had been making akara pancakes at home but not until I made them as breakfast treats for a radio interview, did I realise they would also be so popular. It was first published in my food column in The Guardian ng. Beans are a great source of fiber and protein that keeps one fuller for longer. I prefer buying the readily peeled beans, which are easy to find in local middle eastern, halal grocers, or online. The flatter, lighter and less oily version of akara is wonderful with a variety of toppings, from roasted peppers, spring greens, salads, and dips. This recipe works a treat, a hearty savoury pancake that pulls at those heart strings, bringing back wonderful memories of a colourful and delicious childhood in Nigeria.
Try this recipe and call on others to share!
Àkàràjé!, Come and eat akara!
Pan Fried Akara, Stirfried Plantain, Spinach & Peppers
Feeds 8 tummies | Cooking time: 30 minutes
For the Akara pancakes
- 400g / 2cups dry black eyed beans
- 1 medium onion
- 1 scotch bonnet, stalk removed & deseeded for less heat if preferred
- 1 large bell pepper
- 1 tsp dried red pepper/ chilli powder
- 1 tbsp. ground crayfish (optional – African crayfish or dried shrimps)
- 2 large eggs (optional)
- 2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes
- 1/4 tsp salt
For the Plantain, Spinach & Peppers Stir-fry
- 1 stick of ripe plantain
- 2 red bell peppers, stalks removed & chopped
- 1 yellow pepper, stalks removed & chopped
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 2 handfuls spinach, chopped or torn
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp of salt
Let’s get cooking!
- Wash the beans thoroughly and soak in a large bowl of water for one hour to overnight if you can, to soften even more. Wash the beans by rubbing a hand-full vigorously with both palms. Fill the bowl of beans with more water and carefully get rid of the skin, most of which will rise to the top of the bowl. Pour out the water, refill the bowl with fresh water and scoop out the skin as they rise to the top. Repeat this process until the beans are free of skin. I prefer to use ready-peeled beans.
- Pour the soaked and washed beans into a blender. For most household blenders, it is best to divide the beans into two portions in order to blend it all properly, smoothly and without ruining your blender. Add the onion, crayfish, remove the stalks of the peppers and add. Pour some water into the blender, using 240ml / 1 cup of water for the entire mix, ensuring a thick but moveable consistency in order for the pancake to cook properly. Pour into a large bowl and add the dry spices, and stock cubes. Stir and beat with a wooden spoon to incorporate air into the batter. Taste and add salt if needed.
- Prepare a large frying pan by heating it with a tablespoon of oil, well spread around the entire surface of the pan. Scoop a ladle spoon or two of the bean batter into the pan (thicker than regular pancakes). Swirl the pan around to evenly cover the surface and cook on low – medium heat for 3 – 4 minutes. Cover the pan as the trapped heat will ensure the top of the batter starts to cook as well.
- Use a flat frying spatula to loosen the sides and bottom of the batter in order to flip it easily and successfully. The akara batter is far denser compared to eggs or pancakes so do not try flipping it in the air. Using one hand, tightly hold a round flat plate on top of the frying pan, ensuring it covers the entire surface of the pan. With the second hand, hold the frying pan and carefully turn the batter into the plate. Using a kitchen napkin, clean any sticky batter left in the frying pan, quickly return the pan to heat and add a tablespoon of oil to cover the surface. Carefully slide the batter (uncooked side down) back into the frying pan and cook with the lid on for another 3 – 4 minutes. Slide a toothpick into the batter to check for doneness. If it is very wet with sticky bits on the toothpick, the akara needs more time.
- If you have an oven and an oven safe frying pan, repeat the above steps until step 3, preheat the oven and bake at 200 degrees centigrade for 10 minutes. This way you can make more than one pan at a time and avoid staring at the akara for over 7 minutes each time. I really do not enjoy watching and waiting for food for a long period of time, as I’d rather be eating it.
- For the topping, peel the skin of the plantain, cut the plantain into cubes, deep fry and set aside. In a large frying pan or wok, add a tablespoon of oil, cook the chopped peppers, onions and spinach for 3 minutes. Finally, add the fried plantain and seasoning. Stir and take off the heat. You can be as creative as want to with the toppings each time by adding your favourite vegetables and sauces to make this the most wonderful treat to remember.
- Serve the akara pancake, spread the topping onto it and cut into four to eight pieces just like you would a pizza. Grab a piece quickly because this treat won’t last. Not ever in my house and I bet it won’t in yours!
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