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Vigna unguiculata (known as black-eyed peas in America; usually called cowpeas in English-speaking Africa; also called china beans, and black-eyed beans) are native to Asia, the Middle East, and perhaps Africa. They were cultivated in the Mediterranean region in ancient times, and have been grown all over Africa for centuries. In Western Africa they are used to make a batter from which fritters are made. These fritters (known as accra, akara, akla, binch akara, bean balls, kosai, koose, kose, koosé, and kwasi) are commonly prepared at home for breakfast, for snacks, or as an appetizer or side dish. They are also fast-food, sold by vendors on the street, in marketplaces, and at bus stations. This same recipe, with a very similar name, is also known in the Caribbean. Also see the recipe for African Fritters.
Note that Akara take at least an entire day to prepare, in order to allow the black-eyed peas to soak and the batter to rest.
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Living off the Country, published in Nigeria in 1942, was a cookbook for Europeans in Africa that featured local recipes and foodstuffs. This recipe is reproduced in Tales from the Dark Continent (Charles Allen, editor, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979) which collects various documents related to British colonialism in Africa. "Kukuki" jam, for the time being, is unidentified.
Soak native beans in cold water over night. In the morning remove from the water and grind finely in a food chopper or have a native woman grind them on her stone. Add enough water to make a stiff batter. Add finely chopped onion and salt to taste.
Drop by small spoonfuls into a saucepan which is about half full of hot fat, preferably groundnut oil. Care should be taken that the oil is not too highly seasoned with pepper or the bean cakes will be too 'hot' to eat. Remove from the fat when they are brown. Serve hot with some sort of tart sauce, such as "Kukuki" jam.
Wole Soyinka's Aké: The Years of Childhood (New York: Vintage International, Random House, 1981) is a autobiographical novel set in Nigeria. It describes many African foods, including Akara:
The flavors of the market rose fully in the evenings, beckoning us to a depletion of the onini and halfpennies we had succeeded in saving during the week. For there they all were, together, the jogi seller who passed, in full lyrical cry beneath the backyard wall at a regular hour of the morning, followed only moments later by the akara seller, her fried beancakes still surreptitiously oozing and perfuming the air with groundnut oil. In the market we stood and gazed on the deftly cupped fingers of the old women and their trainee wards scooping out the white bean-paste from a mortar in carefully gauged quantities, into the wide-rimmed, shallow pots of frying oil. The lump sank immediately in the oil but no deeper than an inch or two, bobbed instantly to the surface and turned pinkish in the oil. It spurted fat globules upwards and sometimes beyond the rim of the pot if the mix had too much water. Then, slowly forming, the outer crust of crisp, gritty light brownness which masked the inner core of baked bean paste, filled with green and red peppers, ground crayfish or chopped.
Even when the akara was fried without any frills, its oil impregnated flavours filled the markets and jostled for attention with the tang of roasting coconut slices within farina cakes which we called kasada; with the hard-fried lean meat of tinko; the "high" rotted cheese smell of ogiri; roasting corn, fresh vegetables or gbegiri ...
[note: Ogiri is a seasoning derived from the fermented (?) seeds of the African locust tree or perhaps from fermented sesame seeds (?); it is used in soups and stews in Western Africa.]
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