Memories and Musings

Bollitos Go To Kiawah Island

I’m happy to be going to the beautiful Kiawah Resort about 30 mile south of Charleston to cook with the team there to raise money for the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. Kiawah is located along 10 miles of pristine beach and their golf resort is rated as the “top resort in the U.S. Mainland by readers of Conde Nast Traveler. The event we are doing is titled “Gourmet and Grapes” and it is a weekend long celebration of food and wine that will also feature culinary seminars, golf and elegant auctions. My chef friends Charlie Trotter and Patrick O’ Connell did the first two years of this dinner. I’m lucky number three!

Our dinner will be a black tie affair on Friday, April 29th. There is a Wine Odyssey Gala on Saturday night that will feature some of the areas very finest Chefs. I was asked if we could stay on Sunday for a “Low Country Jazz Brunch”. We hastily agreed.

When I construct menus for events like this I often go back to my Key West roots and inspirations. Let’s talk of that….

“Then the static hum of the radio stretched into a languid Latin rhythm, a distant faraway throb of rhumbas and saltwater breakers striking sandy shores. The music from Cuba filled the back room of the grocería with the swish of swaying palm trees. Bang! Justo’s grandfather’s cane would strike the pine-plank floor. “Nino!” Justo’s abuelo called to him. “Mas marquitas y bollos!” Off Justo went running with the single-minded intensity of a bird dog about to jump a covey of quail, returning to Abuelo and the men with bags of fried green plantain bananas and boxes of sweet bollo penny cakes. Abuelo then poured out shots of compuesto. The fiery sugarcane liquor fueled talk of cockfights and revolutions past and future.”
–Thomas Sanchez, “Mile Zero”


I read the comic/dramatic brilliance of the book “Mile Zero” in 1989. I still love to find it on my bookshelf and pick it up for gems like the one above. I began making Bollos, (or the smaller version bollitos) once again as I am testing recipes for a new cookbook. I will be sharing my love for many of Key West’s most emblematic foods in the book. Sanchez speaks to a sweet version in his reminiscence above. The one in the picture are simple savory ones made with Black Eye’d Peas. I believe they are a cousin to the Brazilian’s “acarajé” fritters. I first came across them in places as humble as ones like the place pictured here with the hand block lettered menu samples on the sun-bleached walls. They went well with a very cold 16 ounce Busch beer after a morning of fruitless fishing.

The little dishes like these are ones I like to insert on my menus for even the most grand settings. I will add them to the fish course, (Carolina Flounder with Collard Greens and Heirloom Tomatoes). The good people of Charleston know Black Eye’d Peas so in a way I’m making a point, (I hope to be a delicious one) about other cultures take on them. I experimented with a lighter version than the recipe below by adding 1/2 cup of soft peak egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar to 1 cup of the prepared batter.

Recipe: Bollitos
Copyright @ by Norman Van Aken, All Rights Reserved

The name comes from the shape and it means, ‘little balls’. They are quite similar in concept to the Brazilian dish known there as “acarajé”. They might have migrated from Brazil to Cuba and other Caribbean ports but keeping the black eye’d pea as its central ingredient. The slave trade moved dishes and history as they moved lives. I learned of them at The Bicentennial Laundromat’s little take out window near The Bottle Cap Bar which is where I’d take this treat and knock it back with a cold one. They are simple, inexpensive and perfect for the pre-dinner cocktail hour.

Yield: About 60 fritters
(can be divided and frozen for future use)

  • 12 ounces black-eyed peas
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 2 small scotch bonnets, stem and seeds discarded
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced small

Pick over the peas, removing any dark ones and debris.  Place in a large bowl and cover with water by at least 2 inches.  Cover the bowl and let the peas soak overnight.  Rub the peas between the palms of your hands and rub vigorously to loosen the skins.  Remove as much skin as will come off easily, then cover the peas again with cold water and soak 3 hours.  The skins will float to the top.  Skim the skins off and rub the peas again to remove the remaining skins.  The skins that cling can be lifted off with a thumbnail.  A few remaining skins are all right, but too many make coarse-textured bollitos.

Grind the peas in a food processor fitted with a steel blade using on and off spurts until smooth.  Place the ground peas in a bowl and stir in the salt, garlic and chile.  Beat with a mixer or with a wooden spoon until the batter is thick and creamy.  Chill the batter thoroughly.  It can be kept covered in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days.

In a deep-fat fryer or large pan fitted with a frying basket, heat 4 to 5 inches of oil to 375 degrees.  Drop the batter from the tip of a teaspoon and fry until golden brown, about 3 1/2 minutes.  The bollitos should have space to bob around in the oil, so cook in batches, if necessary.  Drain the fritters on paper towels and keep warm.

If you like to jazz things up put 1 1/2 cups batter with 1 1/3 cups shrimp, mix well and cook the same way.

They can be served as is or with any number of dipping sauces. Mix 1 tablespoon of freshly ground cumin into a cup of sour cream and add a good squeeze of lime for one.

© 2023 Norman Van Aken. All rights Reserved.