Wednesday, September 1, 2010

RECIPE - Abará

The Afro-Brazilian dish from the state of Bahia called abará is based on a dough or paste made from mashed black-eyed peas. This same dough is also the starting point for the most famous of Bahian dishes acarajé. In the case of acarajé the dough is formed into a ball and deep-fried in a fragrant palm oil known as dendê, while acarajé is made by wrapping the dough into packets inside banana leaves, then steaming them.

While making the dough from dried black-eyed peas may seem like a simple task, and certainly reads like one in a recipe, it's far from fast-n-easy. I once decided to treat some Canadian friends to homemade acarajé at a dinner party, a decision which I regretted almost immediately, and which I'll never repeat. To make either acarajé or abará a pound of dried beans must be soaked for twenty-four hours, and then the skins must be taken off them - bean by bean! I have no idea how many beans make up a pound, but taking off those skins takes hours and hours of labor. Some slide off easily and some do not. I seriously do not know how the women who sell acarajé at streetside stands do it every day - they must have armies of bean-skinners at home removing those little black-eyed skins. So, if you do decide to try the following recipe for abará, don't say you haven't been warned. You'll be de-skinning for hours and it'll be weeks before your fingertips lose their "prunes." If you do decide to go ahead, you're in for a absolutely delicious plate of food, with all the soul of Afro-Brazilian tradition. Making abará is a lose-win situation. Go ahead, give it a try.

abará dough
RECIPE - Abará

1 lb (500 gr) dried black-eyed peas
1  large yellow onion, coarsely grated
1 cup small dried shrimp (available in Asian and Latin American markets)
2 small red Thai chilis (1 serrano chili can be substituted), seeded and chopped
1/2 cup dendê oil (available in Latin American and African markets, often labelled "palm oil")
banana leaves to wrap (available in Asian and Latin American markets)
kitchen twine
The evening before serving place the black-eyed peas in cold water to cover, with 3 inches of water above the top of the beans. Let soak overnight. In the morning, they will be soft and swollen.

De-skin the black-eyed peas, bean by bean, removing the papery skin and the "black eye". Put the peas through a meat grinder, using the finest grind, or process briefly, in batches, in a food processor. Do not overprocess, or the dough will become sticky and pasty.

Put the dough in a large mixing bowl, and beat with a large wooden spoon until it become light and airy. Add the dried shrimp, the chili and the dendê oil. Beat again to thoroughly mix.

Cut the banana leaves with scissors into squares of approximately 8 inches (20 cm) on a side. Place a wooden-spoonful of dough in the center of a square, fold over each side to make a square package, and then tie with kitchen twine. Continue until you have wrapped all the dough in banana leaves.

Steam the packages in a large covered stockpot or other steaming device, cooking them for about 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool completely.

Serve the abará at room temperature, still in their banana-leaf packages, accompanied by some sort of fresh made hot chili sauce.

Recipe translated and adapted from Receitas tradicionais da cozinha baiana by Ligia Junqueira.


  1. OMG I recently tried to make acarajé and like you said - it was a labour of love NEVER to be repeated. It tasted delicious but I wish I could find some already ground flour

    1. I did it for the very first time from scratch...the secret is to leave the beans soaking for 2 days in luke water changing water several times 5 times a day and when the skin softens,I fill the palm of my hands with the beans and vigorously rub them against each other...the skin comew out much easier.
      I am about to make abará today...beans were soaking for 2 days.

  2. Aqui o have to crack the peas before soaking them, put them through the grinder on a very coarse grind, then soak overnight. Drain of the water, most of the skins and eyes will go with it, add more water, swirl, drain. Repeat and repeat till the eyes are all gone. (Make sure you have something in the drain of the sink to catch the skins or you will stop up your sink like nothing else.)

    1. Achei q os black dots in the dough do not look or taste the same...less work thou

  3. Correction: Acaraje is deep-fried, abara is steamed in a banana leaf.