Crispy Akara with Sesame Sauce
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Recipe courtesy of Tonya Hopkins

Crispy Àkàrà with Savory Smoky Sesame Sauce 

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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 8 hr 45 min (includes soaking time)
  • Active: 45 min
  • Yield: 4 to 6 appetizer servings
Àkàrà (a Yoruba and Igbo word referring to a bean cake or fritter) has long been a popular street snack throughout West Africa and shows up prominently in Atlantic Creole cookery all over the New World, including the American South. The fritters are made with black-eyed peas, which are an ancient indigenous staple of the Senegambian diet and popularized by Black American cooks (many descendants of that region) after the Civil War. Representing resilience and blessings, black-eyed peas are a long-standing symbol of good luck and are traditionally eaten at the start of the New Year, a tradition our family has maintained for generations. This sesame sauce is super simple to make, has a range of versatile uses and tastes reeeaaallly delicious. It requires just a handful of ingredients that usually exist already in a well-stocked pantry, and it reminds me of a vegan chipotle mayo. You can also serve the akara with a tomato or tomatillo salsa.


Savory Smoky Sesame Sauce:


Special equipment:
a deep-fry thermometer
  1. Rinse the black-eyed peas, add to a large bowl or pot and cover with water. Soak for 6 to 8 hours (see Cook's Note). Drain in a strainer or colander and discard the soaking water. 
  2. Remove and discard the pea skins in one of two ways: either rub the damp black-eyed peas (about a 1/4 cup at a time) between the palms of your hands (the ancient African way); or pulse the beans in a food processor with some of the soaking water for a few minutes, then rinse and strain in batches, picking out and removing/discarding the pea skins in each session. 
  3. Transfer the peeled peas to a food processor and process, adding about 1/2 cup fresh water, into a thick paste. Mix in the shallot, bell peppers, green onion, garlic, salt and pepper to taste by pulsing until a smooth paste forms. Transfer the paste to a bowl, add the rice flour and stir until a thick batter forms.
  4. Melt a few inches of coconut oil or shortening in a medium to large cast-iron skillet (within at least an inch from the top rim of the skillet so the oil doesn’t spill once hot). Heat over medium-high heat to 375 degrees F. 
  5. In batches, gently and carefully place individual scoops (at least 1 tablespoon) of the mixture into the oil using a cooking spoon with a long handle. Deep-fry until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels before relocating to a serving tray. Bring the oil back to temperature between each batch. Serve with the Savory Smoky Sesame Sauce.

Savory Smoky Sesame Sauce:

  1. Pour or spoon the tahini into a measuring cup with at least a 2-cup capacity and a spout (large enough to stir or whisk in the ingredients and later pour from). Add the paprika, agave, onion flakes, granulated garlic, salt and lemon zest and juice and whisk or stir vigorously to combine.
  2. Add the rice vinegar and stir; you’ll notice the mixture converts to a paste-like consistency, but don’t panic--this is a normal reaction of sorts. Stir in 1/4 cup warm water until the mixture converts back to a creamy consistency.
  3. Stir and pour from the measuring cup into a festive dipping bowl; or perhaps better yet these days, pour into individual tiny condiment dishes used for dips and sauces. If you do opt to use one shared festive-looking dip bowl, just remember "no double-dipping."

Cook’s Note

The peas/beans can soak for up to 24 hours (at room temperature on the counter part of the time, then covered in the refrigerator or a cool room for overnight). The longer the soak, the easier it will be to remove the external bean skins. However, if a few of the black specks or bits of “black eye” from the pea skins stay in, that's fine--“perfection is the enemy of the good." Tahini consistencies do vary greatly by brand--this one is based on using a creamy liquidy style or version that doesn’t easily separate (sesame oil from paste). Don’t panic when the creamy texture of the tahini turns into a dense, almost flaky paste after the vinegar is added; that’s what the warm water is for--to loosen it back up!