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Seattle chef Dana Tough is known for his imaginative, next-level approach to pub fare, serving dishes like a smoked burger, duck fat crumb-topped mac-n-cheese and pork belly sliders at the three restaurants he owns and operates with co-chef and business partner, Brian McCracken. When he arrived at Allrecipes' HQ for a Greek yogurt Tasting Panel, followed by a demo his version of Acarajé, he blew us away with a fab appetizer that tasted like the most incredible savory doughnut in the universe.

Savory fritter main photo by Vanessa Greaves
Photo by Vanessa Greaves

Acarajé is a classic street food of West Africa and Brazil, a protein-packed snack that can be gobbled on the go. Think falafel, but there's a big twist. The beans used as a base for these fritters are first fermented in a salt brine. Like pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi that process encourages the growth of good-for-your-gut bacteria. Plus, it means the added bonus of a tangy flavor like a sourdough bread.

Chef Dana said that while black-eyed peas are the traditional legume used for the dish, he prefers a creamier bean like a cannelini, which is also known as a white kidney bean. After 24 hours in the brine, the fermented beans and seasonings are pureed in a food processor and left to age another day. "You can let them go longer, if you like a more sour flavor," he said.

The final step before frying involves whipping the bean puree until it's fluffy, adding a bit of the brine. It looks almost like a very light cookie dough before heaping tablespoons are dropped into oil heated to 350 degrees. The fritters cook quickly, while taking a few turns. Dana likes to use a spider, a tool that looks like a cross between a fishing net and a ladle, to remove the fritters from the oil, resting them on paper towels.

fritters whipped photo by Vanessa Greaves
Photo by Vanessa Greaves

When it comes to plating the fritters, chef Dana played up spring by using some surprising edible flowers, including a petal from a Magnolia blossom. "It tastes a lot like cardamom," he said. He painted Greek yogurt on the plate and placed dabs of harissa in between the golden bite-size orbs, encouraging diners to drag the fritters through the two ingredients to create their own savory sauce.

The big "wow" came after breaking the fritter in half. Inside the crispy exterior, the inside was fluffy and light, like a doughnut. Unlike most doughnuts, though, these were bursting with probiotic goodness, especially when combined with the Greek yogurt. And even though they taste like a savory doughnut, they're also gluten-free.

After this impressive reveal, I tried making Acarajé at home. It's not a complicated process, but it does take time. I used black-eyed peas because I had them in my pantry, but next time, I'll heed the chef's advice and go for a creamy white bean. Mine turned out more like a rustic falafel. Still good, but not like the spectacular fluffy fritter I was expecting. Also, when you make them at home, be conservative on how much brine you add. The batter I created was super wet, so I ended up squeezing some of the moisture out before frying.

A friend recently asked me to help her overcome a fear of frying, a common condition among even the most seasoned cooks. The best place to start is by doing small batch frying. I use a saucepan rather than a deep pot, where food might splash when they hit the oil. It's less of a mess, too. When I was finished frying, I poured the cooled oil through a coffee filter resting on a funnel. That bottle is now in the fridge, waiting for the next batch of Chrissy Teigen's chicken wings or French fries.


To eat with your microbes and a healthy gut in mind, check out our recipes for the Microbiome Diet.