Akara (Fried Bean Cakes)

published Oct 30, 2021
Akara (Fried Bean Cakes) Recipe

Akara is a flavorful West African fried bean dish with a crisp exterior that gives way to a deliciously tender interior.

Serves6 to 7

Makes18 to 21 akara

Prep25 minutes to 30 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 25 minutes

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akara being pulled out of frying oil
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

On weekends when I was younger, I would occasionally wake up to a bowl of beans soaking on the counter. This always meant one thing: My mom was making akara. She makes the best akara, so it was always a special treat in my household.

It’s hard to perfectly describe the essence of akara, but you can think of it sort of like a bean fritter or bean cake. It consists of beans that have been soaked and blended to remove the skins, then puréed with red onions, red bell peppers, and habanero peppers. The mixture is then scooped into small portions and fried in hot oil until golden-brown.

The bean purée should be smooth, but you’ll want to stop blending just as it gets there, which will allow air pockets to form. The result is perfectly light and airy fritters, with crunchy exteriors and moist and tender insides. They’re wonderfully flavorful, with just the right amount of heat from the habanero peppers. This is one of those recipes that you will perfect over time, and customize to your liking.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Where Did Akara Originate?

Akara is said to have originated with Yoruba people in Nigeria, but it has iterations in many different parts of Africa and the diaspora. For instance, I recently learned from Ozoz Sokoh, creator of Feast Afrique and Kitchen Butterfly, that in Brazil, akara is known as acaraje, which exemplifies the ways in which African foods have migrated over time.   

What Are the Best Beans for Akara?

In Nigeria, you’ll usually see akara made with what we call honey beans, a light brown bean with a fairly sweet taste, or black-eyed peas. Here in the U.S., I only ever come across honey beans at African food stores, so for this recipe we’re going with black-eyed peas, which is what we usually used when I was growing up. Dried beans are necessary for this recipe to achieve the right texture, but luckily they only need to soak for 30 minutes, unlike most recipes that call for dried beans.

What Do You Eat Akara With?

We’d usually eat it with Bird’s custard, but more traditionally it’s eaten with akamu, which is a fermented corn pudding. I was at home with my family as I was developing this recipe, and my stepdad sandwiched his akara between two slices of soft bread, which he told me was one of his favorite things to eat when he was growing up.

Akara (Fried Bean Cakes) Recipe

Akara is a flavorful West African fried bean dish with a crisp exterior that gives way to a deliciously tender interior.

Prep time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Makes 18 to 21 akara

Serves 6 to 7

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    dried black-eyed peas (about 2 1/2 cups)

  • 11 1/2 cups

    cold water, divided

  • 1

    large red bell pepper (about 8 ounces)

  • 1 to 2

    habanero peppers

  • 1/2

    large red onion (6 or 7 ounces)

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 3 cups

    vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Equipment

  • High-power blender

Instructions

  1. Place 1 pound dried black-eyed peas and 6 cups of the cold water in a large bowl. Let the peas soak for 30 minutes to loosen their skins.

  2. Meanwhile, trim and coarsely chop 1 large red bell pepper (about 1 1/3 cups) and 1 to 2 habanero peppers. Coarsely chop 1/2 large red onion (about 1 3/4 cups).

  3. Drain the peas through a colander (reserve the bowl) and discard any skins that have already floated to the top. Transfer half the peas (about 1 1/4 cups) to a blender and add 2 cups of the cold water. Blend in intervals of 5 to 10 seconds until you can see that the skins have come off almost all of the peas, 4 to 5 intervals total. Pour into the reserved bowl. Repeat blending the remaining beans and 2 cups cold water.

  4. Discard the skins that have floated to the top of the bowl. Sift through the peas and rub off and discard any remaining skins. Drain the peas through the colander. If needed, return the peas to the bowl, fill with cold water, and repeat until the skins are completely removed.

  5. Fill a large 10-inch straight-sided skillet with 3 cups vegetable oil and heat to 350ºF over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, return the drained peas to the blender. Add the red onion, bell pepper, habanero, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and remaining 1 1/2 cups cold water. Blend on high speed until smooth, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. The mixture should be smooth with no grittiness from the peas.

  6. When the oil is ready, fry in batches of 5 to 6: Drop 1/4-cup portions of the pea purée into the oil. Fry until golden-brown, about 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer to a wire rack to drain.

Recipe Notes

Storage: These are best served immediately.