In the streets of Salvador da Bahia, the Baianas with their white cotton clothes and cloth wrapped around their heads are a common sight. These women sell the famous Acarajé, a very popular and spicy street food in the northeast of Brazil.
Acarajé are small fried balls made from milled black-eyed peas, known as ‘fradinho’ in Brazil. The fritters are usually opened and served with some kind of filling. The most common stuffings are shrimps, Vatapá – a puree of fish, nut kernels, dried shrimp and soaked bread – or Caruru – a traditional vegetable mix with okra.
Fireballs From Across The Ocean
The state of Bahia is known for its African influences. Along with many other dishes, Acarajé were brought to Brazil by former slaves from West Africa. In parts of Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and Benin the black-eyed pea fritters are also still found today under different names.
This is also where the Brazilian street food got its name from. In the languages of Western African tribes, the word ‘Akara’ means ‘fireball’ and ‘je’ stands for ‘eat’ – a pretty good descrption of what the fiery snack is all about!
If you also like it spicy, you should definitely try making Acarajé at home – unless you happen to be in Brazil; then the Baianas are your first choice!
- 500 g black-eyed pea
- 60 g dried shrimps
- 2 onions
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- Molho de Pimenta Calabresa (Brazilian chili sauce)
- Palm oil (for light roasting and frying)
- For the topping:
- 60 ml olive oil
- 2 red onions
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 long red chili
- 750 g prawns
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp cachaça
- ½ cup coriander leaves
- 2 limes
- Soak the peas in water the day before preparing Acarajé.
- The next day, the shells have been partly solved so you can remove them easily by rubbing the peas against each other.
- Put the peeled peas into a food processor to create a thick puree.
- Peel the onions and chop them finely. Sauté them in some palm oil until glassy and then add the chopped garlic as well as the peas and the chopped dried shrimps.
- Season heavily with salt, pepper and chili sauce and continuously stir with a wooden spoon.
- Heat palm oil in a large skillet. Take some of the pea puree and form dumplings with your hands or a big tablespoon.
- Place the Acarajé balls in the hot palm oil and bake them from all sides until they are crispy and golden. Drain them afterwards on paper towels.
- For the topping, heat some olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
- Add finely sliced onions, chopped garlic and chili and sauté all ingredients until they are slightly browned.
- Turn up the heat and add the peeled prawns and the brown sugar. Let them cook, while stirring continuously, until the prawns turn pink.
- Add the cachaça and let it boil until the liquid has evaporated and the prawns are cooked. Add the chopped coriander leaves, squeeze the lime juice into the mix and season with salt and pepper.
- Finally, open the Acarajé balls on one side and stuff them with the topping. Enjoy!
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Akara or Kosai from Nigeria
Koose from Ghana
Find more food and drinks from Brazil here.
Photos by Jorge Pindorama, Turismo Bahia, André Schirm