Tuesday, 27 March 2012

African Food… a Recipe – Chakalaka...

This is possibly one of the best known, simplest and most disagreed-on recipes to come out of South Africa.  Essentially a recipe of the townships; miners and laborers could make this quick, cheap and easy dish to eat with their Stywe pap.  People will argue that it’s not derived from an ancient and noble African culture but it can boast origins in Johannesburg and Soweto and as such, is truly a food of the people.

 At its most basic level, Chakalaka is a mixture of fried onions, tomato and some curry powder and it is hot! Tinned baked beans were often added to the mix.  As the flavorful dish traveled further afield, other ingredients were added; with input from the traditional Dutch, Malay and Indian cuisines found around South Africa.  Almost everyone will agree with the basic tomato-onion mixture but after that, all bets are off. Many cooks use the basic mixture as a starting point for a flavorful curry or vegetarian casserole but that becomes another story… This is the version shown to me in those first difficult years as a new farm wife, living in the back of beyond. 
The Back of Beyond


60 ml canola oil
2 – 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 – 2 chillies, seeds and membrane removed and finely chopped
3 onions, chopped
6 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (skinning the tomatoes was unheard of)
1 – 4 Tblsps curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar - optional

Fry onions slowly in oil, until they are rich brown color, add garlic and chillies. Stir through the curry powder, if using. Add the tomatoes, mix well and bring to a brisk simmer.  At this point, reduce the heat and cook until the tomatoes are mushy and have formed a thick sauce; about ten to fifteen minutes. Stir every few minutes and if the liquid cooks away, add enough water to keep the mixture like a thick, chunky gravy. Adjust the seasoning and serve with Stywe Pap or rice or pasta or couscous or…

Chopped Tomatoes
Over time, many cooks have *improved* the original; here are some other ingredients that can be added (but not necessarily all together).
Canned Baked beans
Fresh ginger, grated
Green, red or yellow peppers, chopped
Vegetables; try baby squash, green beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes
Coriander or Cilantro 

Chakalaka is great on it's own, with a starch, but it's also awesome with barbequed or grilled meat, chicken and fish.

                  Hunger is the best sauce in the world.  ~Cervantes


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