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Living in Consciousness ~ Indi(r)a’s Food and Garden Weblog

It’s Chakalaka, Baby!

Chakalaka ~ South African Vegetarian Dish
Chakalaka

African food, at least here in the west, is usually restricted to East African staples like the delicious Ethiopian dosa, the Injera or entrees such as the equally delectable Moroccan chickpea stew (normally served over couscous) common to North Africa.

But what of the quintessentially South African Chakalaka?

As one examines the recipe, it’s not hard to imagine South African cooks venturing out into their vegetable garden one hot day, picking onions, red peppers, tomatoes and any other readily available seasonal produce. As the vegetables cooked, they probably craved some of the flavors they remember smelling as they walked down a street with Indian houses. Inspired, they might have thrown in a liberal dose of curry powder into the simmering vegetables in the pot. Since many variations also include tinned baked beans, hungry laborers might have adapted it as a quick and satisfying one-pot meal at the end of a hard day of slogging it in the gold mines.

With my well-equipped Indian kitchen, Chakalaka was a breeze to whip up. Indeed, the Indian influences are not surprising. Indians have been in South Africa longer than Caucasians have been in Canada! So at least for 7-8 generations. In fact, our beloved Mahatma Gandhi cut his revolutionary teeth in South Africa.

But back to Chakalaka (don’t you just love the sound of the name?)

While the jury is still out on whether Chakalaka is a chunky ketchup or a sauce or a cooked salsa (could be either); on whether it should be served as a side dish or a condiment (served as both) and if it should be eaten hot or cold (served either way), this spicy and always vegetarian concoction has now come to be identified as the definitive taste of South Africa. There’s even a restaurant in London named for this dish. Featuring a standard base of onions, tomatoes and peppers; this versatile dish is open to endless experimentation.

Other bloggers tell us that traditionally, Chakalaka is often served as a sauce with a maize porridge (Mielie Pap) that is eaten predominantly by the local black population. It’s also served with bread or the ragi-like Samp, made of maize. It can also be spotted as an accompaniment at South African barbecues called Braais (pronounced “bry”, rhyming with the word “cry”)

In the spirit of making a mean Chakalaka that is true to its African roots as well as its spirit of assimilation and innovation, my version is based on a number of recipes found online as well as one that was featured in the Toronto star.


Red, Orange and Yellow ~ Peppers in Autumn Colors

Recipe:
(Makes enough for approx 30 tablespoon servings)

2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
4 fresh green chillies, slit
1 big red onion, finely chopped
A pound (4 to 6) juicy tomatoes, finely chopped
3 bell peppers, chopped into 1cm X 1cm pieces
2 carrots and 2 potatoes chopped into 1cm X 1cm pieces
Curry powder - 1 heaped tablespoon.
Red beans - one cup, pre-soaked and pressure-cooked to tender
Salt - one teaspoon, or to taste
Fresh coriander for garnish

In a saucepan, heat up the oil and saute ginger, garlic, chillies and onions to soft. Add the salt and curry powder. Add the tomatoes and cook till mushy and of sauce consistency. Add peppers, carrots and potatoes. Cook till they are of a desired softness. Add the red beans and cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add coriander. Check seasoning levels and serve with rice or breads of your choice.

A small confession. After adding the beans, I tasted it and found the heat was a bit too much. So I caved and added a teaspoon of jaggery at the end. Unsuspecting victims, tasters of the dish said it took them to whole new levels of delayed heat which overwhelmed the palate after the initial deceptive sweetness. But they all agreed they couldn’t get enough of it!

Chakalaka with Chapatis and Pomegranate
Chakalaka with Chapatis and Pomegranate ~ Meal Today

~ Article Contributed by Janani Srinivasan
Photos by Indira Singari.

Kitchen Notes:
Other vegetables can also be added to Chakalaka - cauliflower, zucchini, string beans etc
For curry powder - if you have access to it, I recommend the fiery Sri Lankan Niru brand powder so ubiquitous in Toronto. If not, any other store-bought or homemade will do. The South African recipes recommend a local brand called “leaf masala”.
To be true to the grassroots appeal of this dish, you could use a can of baked beans from the local supermarket. Vegetarians check labels to ensure it’s free of lard or any other animal ingredients. If you can soak your own from scratch, that’s even better.
More on Chakalaka : Chakalaka 101, and Culinary Musings from Cape Town

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Bell Pepper, Red Beans (Chori), Peppers, Janani Srinivasan (Thursday October 11, 2007 at 6:30 pm- permalink)
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