Thursday, December 2, 2010

Akara - Nigerian White Bean Burgers for My Legume Love Affair 29

Akara Burger

I've been on a bit of a rampage with cookbook purchases lately. And while I have firm and traditional plans to cook and bake many a European recipe between now and the new year, I am as stuck on torrid spices same as I ever was. I am now the giddy owner of not one, but four compilations from Africa, North Africa, Lebanon, and the Silk Road.

It's getting to the point where my German-American mother is throwing her hands up in exasperation, wailing:

"When are you going to blog again about your heritage recipes? I know you love flinging yourself and your pots and pans to the far corners of the Earth, but don't you think you are neglecting so many great standards from the countries you hail from? Where are your pies, your cookies, your layer cakes; your casseroles, your noodles, your sandwiches?"

"I'm starting my holiday baking very soon, Ma. I know I didn't do Jack-O-Lantern much with the pumpkins and other hard-shelled squashes, but they'll keep, literally. I just need to get one more of those "far-flung" recipes out of my system, then I'll be turning out tortes, pastries, cocktail party nibbles, and those orange, custard-y thingies baked in a crust that everyone's been raving about the last month."

"You haven't baked a pumpkin pie in so long that you don't know what it's called anymore? So, what are you making?"

"I want to try akara, Nigerian bean fritters that are shocked with tiny bits of habanero. Only thing is, I'm in a clutch for one of the ingredients, and the recipe really isn't authentic without it. I have no idea where to get it quick in a hurry; it's not exactly a bread-and-butter item in these parts, despite my ability to source a lot of the diverse and unusual. I'd really like to fry them up once as they are meant to be."

"What is it?"

"Red palm oil, very popular in the tropical regions across Africa."

"Oh, I have it."

"Thanks, Ma. The shortbread stars will be in the oven shortly."

Akara Burgers
- Inspired by the Akara recipe from my copy of The Africa Cookbook - Tastes of a Continent by Jessica B. Harris


2 generous cups cooked white beans, rinsed and drained (Great Northern, Navy, or small white)
1 large egg
1/2 cup dry, sturdy unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon very finely minced fresh habanero pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons red palm oil* (or other frying oil if not available)

Garnishes (Optional)

Shredded radicchio or other salad leaf (I choose radicchio as a bitter foil for habanero's heat and the musky, woody flavor of red palm oil.)
Mayonnaise or salad cream
Capers or chopped pickle
Additional black pepper


Reserve a quarter cup of beans. In a food processor, grind the remaining beans and egg into a coarse paste. Transfer the bean paste to a large bowl. Add breadcrumbs, red onion, habanero, salt, and pepper. Mix well to combine. Add reserved whole beans, stirring only to combine without breaking them. Form into 4 burgers of uniform size and width, building up the sides evenly to prevent them crumbling at edges when they fry. Warm red palm oil in large skillet over medium-low heat just until it melts. It will be solid, like shortening. Fry the burgers for five minutes on each side until browned. Due to its supernaturally high beta-carotene content, the oil will color the burgers a bright, light orange; ensure browning takes place so that the egg binding is fully cooked. Transfer burgers to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve burgers as is or dress them up on a bed of salad greens and top with optional garnishes, which do add interesting flavor contrasts as well as visual appeal. Alternatively, you can slide burgers into toasted whole grain rolls. In any case, serve immediately while still hot.
* Red palm oil can be found with limited availability in large, diverse metropolitan areas where African communities reside. Due to its extraordinary health**-benefit profile of high percentiles per tablespoon of Vitamin A (9,333 IUs) and Vitamin E tocopherols and tocotreinols (15 IUs), it can also sometimes be found in health food stores. Despite its solid texture at room temperature, it is not a hydrogenated fat and does not contain trans-fatty acids. It does, however, contain 7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, and is not a low-calorie food at the typical 120-130 calories per tablespoon of pure fat.

This recipe is for dear Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen, who hosted MLLA 29 for November. Her round-up is already online here.

Priya of Mharo Rasthajan's Recipes is now hosting MLLA 30 for December.


** And speaking of health, seriously good health and seriously healthy eating, please stay tuned for my next post when I review Meg Wolff's A Life in Balance. It's a cookbook that's easy to recommend and a tribute to Meg's commitment to stay alive despite two frightening bouts with cancer. Meg's publisher has sent me an extra copy which I will be giving away a week from the review post. I do hope you can stop by for a winning chance, but most importantly, to learn from Meg's inspiring story what winning chances are all about.


  1. A wonderful speciality! So healthy and tasty.



  2. Your akara look so delicious. I lived in Nigeria for many years, and Akara is one of the few vegetarian foods there that we could eat and thoroughly enjoyed. And yes, unrefined palm oil makes all the difference in taste.

  3. Lovely. I have to admit I used to be quiet the cookbook addict, but have slowed down in recent years only because I don't always have a lot of space to store them and find myself more often than not going to my computer in search of inspiration. Instead, I've been borrowing quite a few cookbooks from the library and storing the recipes in my handy recipe database on my computer.

  4. That looks so wonderful ! Wish I could eat your pic ! Thanks for introducing this Nigerian specialty :-)

  5. It looks so delicious, and perfect for my meatless loving ways.

  6. Wow, what a delicious looking burger and what a wonderful presentation, mind blowing :)

  7. beautiful recipe, beautiful photo and hilarious conversation with your mum - she sounds like a real character

  8. wonderful post (I too have a germanic heritage mother who wonders at my cuisine wanderings!)

  9. Wow! The burger look healthy and delicious to the core. First time to this lovely site, would come often for more of such scrumptious treats. Bets wishes.

  10. That's funny, shes yelling at you and she has the red palm oil.

    My parents giggle with their friends about how I cook something ethnic for them every Sunday- things they would never have tried otherwise. But now, my father, the one who says, "Thats different" at nearly every meal, says, "Lets go to the Indian buffet. I think I'd like to check it out... SCORE!

  11. So finally it was your mom who had the oil? I like the way you reported that bit of the conversation, without any indicators to the tone in which she said it (nor to your reaction). Funny anticlimactic, if you know what I mean! :)

  12. What a nice plate! I like all the colors involved (including that of the plate itself). Thanks for the information on red palm oil.

  13. Waow, it is amazing to discover new cuisines through your blog! I had never heard of Akara and it sounds delicious and healthy! The presentation of the dish is beautiful!

  14. Loved reading this post. Particularly your conversation with your mother. You have a cool mom who is okay with your blogging. My mom would roll her eyes and say "Waste of time. Go do something else".

  15. Wow that looks amazing.. delicious.


  16. This is a really interesting dish. I'm wondering if I could convince the Spouse to eat it...

  17. Thanks, Rosa.

    Aparna - Thank you. That red palm oil is something else, isn't it?

    Hi, Kelly. Thanks. I've been running out of room for a while, too (and I do source many recipes online), but there is nothing quite so real and simple than the feel of a paper-paged book.

    Thanks so much, Gulmohar!

    Val - Thank you. Meat is the farthest thing from your mind when you smell this.

    Thanks, Priya. Very kind of you. : }

    Thank you very much, Johanna. Yup, my mother can never be accused of being dull or mainstream. ; )

    Hi, Kirsten! Thanks. So, another who can relate. : )

    Welcome, Sanjeeta! Thanks so much. I really enjoyed this recipe and will definitely make it again. So easy and tasty.

    Lori - Thanks for sharing about your dad. He's sounds like a lot of fun and an adventurous eater.

    Sra - I presented the conversation exactly as it played out; it was completely deadpan - that made it all the more funny.

    Thanks, Simona. The red palm oil really colored up the burger with a stain similar to turmeric.

    Hi, Vanessa! Thanks! Glad you are enjoying the world tour. : }

    Champa - Thanks so much. I need to have a talk with your mother.

    Welcome, Pavithra! Thanks for your visit and kind kudos.

    Jessica - It's very different. I enjoyed it; so did my spouse, but he passed on seconds. ;P

  18. I'm so impressed with all your legume dishes as well as the many other delicious recipes you post on your blog. Maybe after the holidays, I will join in your MLLA! Cheers and Happy Holidays

  19. These sound fantastic! Simple yet flavorful and healthy all at once.

  20. You have some really impressive and delicious looking legume recipes!! Congratulations on this great blog! I am a fan:)