I’ll come clean; I’m superstitious. In a measured way. For instance I would not walk underneath a ladder for safety reasons but if that also avoids bad luck all the better. I love the magic in ‘good luck’. Though difficult to quantify the impact of ‘good luck’, my thinking is I lose nothing to eat something on the first day of the New Year to bring me luck potentially. Therefore black eyed peas are always on the menu for the first bite, literally after the chimes of the New Year have rung in my house.
Black eyed peas have had culinary roots in the southern U.S. for over 300 years being a staple of ‘soul food’. One account of their ‘good fortune’ relates back to the Civil War when General Sherman stripped the countryside of vegetation, sparing this particular plant which fed those surviving the war. The roots of the good luck tradition are foggy however the adherence to the ritual of dining on even a bite first thing in the New Year holds strong.
The Black Eyed Pea (which is truly a nutritious legume and not a pea) most likely originated in West Africa before migrating to U.S. soil to found new food traditions. I try to make a new recipe each New Year (despite loving my staples of Hoppin John and Coconut Black-Eyed Pea soup). This year I made a West African dish of Black Eyed Pea Fritters and Hot Sauce also known as ‘Akara’. The name is underwhelming to the dish I assure you. Sparked with spicy, layered flavors this dish is well loved in my household.
Admittedly this is a ‘labor of love’ dish. I adapted the recipe from a African Cooking booklet as part of the ‘Foods of the World’ Time Life Book series from the 1970’s. When first reading the recipe I noted it called for dousing the dry black eyed peas with warm water, rubbing them to remove their skins and repeating. After visually surveying my dried beans I concluded there were no skins and approached the start of the recipe differently soaking the beans in boiling water to soften them. It was at the end of this step I realize indeed they DO have skins which when removed leave the beans a nubile, albino shade having shed their iconic ‘black eye’.
This portion of the recipe is laborious, I won’t lie. I had roped my teen daughter into making the recipe with me and shortly into the defrocking of the beans I put out the full family call to arms, pulling people away from cozy reading nooks and newfound Christmas electronics to help. It became a full family ‘food meditation’ repetitively pinching off the skins, placing beans in one bowl and rinsing our hands in another. We all could imagine groups of West African women doing the same, stripping the peas en masse for their eventual glorious destiny in these delectable fritters. Though time consuming, the end result of the golden brown, light, fluffy fritters paired with a fresh, spicy sauce was worth it; so say children and adults alike in my house.
This unique West African dish is fresh and delicious yielding light, airy fritters with a frisky hot sauce. The preparation time is a bit labor intensive in the skinning of the black-eyed peas but worth the effort. All prepared ingredients are pureed eventually so rough chopping is fine. A great way to usher in Good Luck for the New Year!
- 1 ¼ cup dried Black Eyed Peas (approximately ½ pound)
- ¼ cup Yellow Onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon Ginger, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup Water
- ¼ teaspoon ground Cayenne Pepper
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- 1 small Yellow Onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 4 large Garlic Cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 medium ripe Tomato, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
- 2 fresh Serrano Chilies, about 2 inches long, stemmed, deseeded and chopped*
- 1 tablespoon fresh Ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
- 1/8 teaspoon ground Cayenne Pepper
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (do not use Olive Oil)
- Place the black-eyed peas in a heat resistant bowl and cover with enough boiling water to cover them by 2 inches. Allow to sit for 30 minutes. Note: Preparation of other ingredients can be done while the black-eyed peas are soaking. Preheat oven to lowest setting at this time (135 degrees or whatever your oven lowest setting is).
- After the black-eyed peas have soaked for 30 minutes, assemble a second bowl with warm water (will be to dip your hands to remove the skins) and a bowl for the skinned black-eyed peas. To skin the Black-Eyed Peas: Pinch the black-eyed pea at the ‘black eye’ and pull off the skin. The skins are not visible at first but after starting you will be able to see them. The pea’s ‘black eye’ is part of the skin so once the skin is off the black eye is also removed. The skins stick to the fingers so once you have pinched the skin off, rinse your fingers in the bowl of water to free the skin from your hand and place the skinned black-eyed pea in the third bowl. Repeat until all peas have been skinned.
- Using a blender, combine the onion, garlic, tomato, chilies, ginger, tomato paste, cayenne pepper and salt and process at high speed to blend into a puree.
- In an 8 inch or 10 inch heavy skillet heat the vegetable oil over moderate heat. When heated add the puree mixture, stirring constantly, and cook briskly until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape on a spoon (3-5 minutes). Set aside or covered in a heat proof bowl in the warmed oven until fritters are done.
- Pour the vegetable oil into a deep fryer or heavy saucepan allowing 2-3 inches depth. The pan should be large enough to allow 6-8 tablespoons size fritters to fry at once with room. Heat the oil until it reaches to 375 degrees on a deep frying thermometer. Secondarily line a large baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels and set aside.
- Using a blender or food processor, combine black-eyed peas, onion, ginger, water, cayenne pepper and salt. Blend at high speed to puree, scraping sides of blender or food processor bowl if needed. It should yield a light, cream colored puree.
- When the oil is hot, transfer the black-eyed pea puree to a bowl and whisk briskly for 2-3 minutes. To cook Fritters: Drop tablespoons of fritter batter into heated oil (using a second spoon to free the batter from the tablespoon if needed). Using a heat resistant slotted spoon gently turn the fritters until golden brown, approximately 4-5 minutes. Remove the cooked fritters with a slotted spoon, allowing any oil to drain back into the pan, and place on the prepared baking tray lined with paper towels. Place in the warmed oven while continuing to make the rest of the fritters, placing cooked fritters on the tray in the oven.
- Arrange fritters on a platter with the bowl of sauce. Serve warm.
Adapted from Recipes: African Cooking 'Foods of the World' Time Life Books
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