...another Sunday...another BBQ aka BRAAI in SA!
Chakalaka is a great Southern African dish. Just ask any South Africans and they'll all agree. But what is it ? Just ask any South Africans and they'll all disagree. Well I suppose we've at least got consensus on some things so let's start there. It's spicy, it's vegetarian, it's the taste of Africa, it's got onions, tomatoes and peppers in it and after that everybody's got their own ideas. That's not necessarily a bad thing but I suppose it would be nice if we knew what it was, if only to try to share it with others.
We can firm things up just a little if we think of it as a side dish although there are some who will throw their arms up in the air and declare that it's more of a sauce than a side dish. So let's call it a wet side dish. It's often served with mielie pap, which is the standard starch eaten on a daily basis by much of our population so I suppose it serves a purpose similar to a sauce. It's also served with bread, samp ( another maize dish ) and stews. Aha, so if it's served with stews then surely it's not a sauce, it's a vegetable accompaniment ? Possibly but what about when it pops up alongside grilled meats ? - vegetable accompaniment or spicy relish ? Sorry did I mention that it can be served hot or cold ?
Well if it's cold then it must be a salad and that's probably the origin of the dish in the first place. With it's combination of spices, tomatoes, peppers and vegetables it's very likely that it is a deviation on some salad or achar of Indian or Malay origin which just tasted so good that it became the ketchup of Africa. Many variations also include tinned baked beans so I reckon it was prepared by labourers working in the goldmines as a salad originally but tossed into the pan with whatever was available at the time and then poured over mielie pap, potatoes or bread. Black workers adopted it as a spicy, easy to prepare dish and took it back to their villages with them when they went on leave. The rest as they say is history....we've all been making it ever since to serve at our braais but like all truly great dishes we each have a slightly different recipe handed down through the family or wrested at knifepoint from someone who made the best Chakalaka this side of the Limpopo. Ingredients include onions, tomatoes, green peppers, carrots, cabbage, baked beans, curry powder, peri peri, chilli, garlic, ginger, fresh coriander.....the list goes on and on like any self respecting barbeque sauce.
I suppose that inviting people over to your fire is a very personal thing for the modern caveman and so on reflection maybe it's not that important that we have a structured recipe, maybe it's more important that your chakalaka is an individual thing. However if you need a starting point then try this :
250 ml sunflower or corn oil
30 g fresh chopped ginger
30 g fresh chopped garlic
20 g chopped chillis (choose your type according to how much heat you like!)
3 onions, roughly chopped
500 g tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped - or equivalent of tinned chopped tomatoes
1 large green pepper de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 large red pepper de-seeded and roughly chopped
1-2 tablespoons curry powder of your choice
250 g coarsely grated carrot
1 large tin baked beans, undrained (450g tin)
3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped parseley
Fry ginger,garlic,chillis,onions in the oil. Add the curry powder of your choice and mix. Add the tomatoes and cook for 10 mins. Add peppers and carrots and cook for 10 minutes. Add baked beans and cook until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. You can get away with cooking for only 5-10 minutes at this stage, but the longer you simmer it, the more complex and melded the flavours will be. Remove from heat and add parseley. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Serve with whatever you want, hot or cold.