Have you ever heard of Chakalaka? Had I ever heard of Chakalaka? Nope, didn’t know it existed a few days back. If someone would have said chakalaka, I would have said let’s do it… and hit the dance floor. It sounds like a dancing move to me… cha cha.. Cha.. chakalaka! Well it turns out it has nothing to do with dancing, other than tangoing in your kitchen with some simple veggies and spices. Meet your new relish, your new sidekick, your new veggie friend all the way from South Africa… your Chakalaka!!
It’s funny, whenever I am on the lookout for unknown foods my antenna always goes way up when I find something spicy and tangy. I guess it’s predestined. Me and my flavor bomb foods! Even when it’s just a mere veggie dish. This simple dish is packed with loads of vibrant, colorful veggies and flavorful spices and fresh herbs. No wonder chakalaka comes very high on my “cook me please” list.
South African cuisine is often referred to as a rainbow cuisine, with varied influences. Kudos to their indigenous people, European influences as remnants of colonial eras, and Indian-Malay aspects brought with migrant workers. All this to create that beautiful rainbow melting pot.
What is Chakalaka?
Chakalaka is a South African vegetable staple that normally accompanies their meats and seafood. It is often featured in get togethers like their Braais (South African barbecues or cookouts) and celebration times. It’s kinda their side kick. To some it’s like a salad, to some it’s a relish, and to some it’s a meal in itself, like a stew. Whatever the case, chakalaka is basically whatever vegetables you have on hand, along with some kind of beans and a handful of different spices and aromatics.
The word chakalaka comes from the Zulu language and means “all together”. The legend around chakalaka is that it has its origin in hard working gold miners around Johannesburg, cooking a meal with whatever vegetables they had available, to fuel a hard day’s work. It was a simple affair of canned beans and tomatoes, along with a few fresh vegetables and additional spices. Depending on the region and preferences, the spiciness of chakalaka varies from mild to very hot. Traditionally it was served with a corn-based porridge called pap, and later it became an integral part of barbecues. Over the years, tons of creativity went into chakalaka, resulting in the different variations you find now all over the country.
So how does the modern day chakalaka look on your plate? The only limit is your creativity. It depends on what and how many veggies you use, or what type of bean goes in it. But today I am going to show you the most “typical” chakalala.
- Onion – You can use any variety like spanish, white or red. Each will impart it’s own flavor.
- Tomatoes – To create the base along with onions.
- Aromatics and herbs – Ginger, garlic, fresh thyme and cilantro. You can also use parsley.
- Green chili – You need some kind of hotness there. You can use any fresh green or red chili pepper, we used jalapeño.
- Veggies – Today we are using green beans, carrots and red and green bell peppers.
- Cannellini beans – These go great. Baked beans are also very common.
- Spices – Paprika, curry powder and cayenne (optional).
- Bouillon powder or paste – For extra flavor (optional).
- Salt and pepper
How to make Chakalaka
First build the foundation of the dish. Chop onions and finely chop ginger, garlic and green chilies (removing the seeds). Heat oil in a pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add you chopped onions. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and becomes translucent. Add ginger, garlic and chiles and stir.
Chop bell peppers, cut green beans (we did French cut) and julienne cut your carrots. For a shortcut, you can grate the carrots. Add these veggies to the pan and give it a nice stir.
Now comes that Indian-Malay influence with our spices; curry powder, paprika and cayenne. Stir these in along with salt and black pepper and fresh thyme. You can get away with dried thyme in the absence of fresh.
Stir in chopped tomatoes and combine well. Add bouillon powder or paste, we like Better than Bouillon paste. Reduce heat to medium and simmer till veggies are cooked, about 8-10 minutes.
Then comes the most peculiar part of this dish, adding some sort of canned beans. They can be plain beans or baked. We are adding cannellini today. They go towards the end, as they are already cooked. Add them in and give everything a good stir.
Simmer 2-3 more minutes to heat up the beans. That’s it! All that remains is to garnish with some more fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley or thyme.
What to serve Chakalaka with?
- Like the locals, you can serve it with some kind of corn or maize porridge. Their version is called pap.
- It’s a great relish for barbecued meats and seafood. I can see it going equally good with roasted or baked meats, like chicken or pork.
- Serve it along with some crusty bread, toasts or crackers.
- As an Indian, I think this sauteed vegetable would be finger licking with a simple roti, paratha or naan. AKA all Indian breads.
- Some hot rice in a bowl topped with these spiced veggies is a perfect vegetarian/vegan lunch.
- Play with vegetables. Cabbage, mushrooms, peas, corn, eggplant and even potatoes can go in chakalaka.
- Try different beans, like your favorite baked beans. How about Lima beans or chickpeas. Hmm… yum.
- If you want to add some protein, like some fried bacon, it goes very well. Some people cook this with bites of cooked sausages. Brown them by sautéing in little oil before adding to the veggies.
- How about some chakalaka shakshuka? Once your chakalaka is almost cooked, just make some depressions with a spoon and crack some eggs into these nests. Cook, covered, till the eggs set to your liking. Those would be some lip smacking eggs for sure.
- Make it as spicy or mild as you want by adjusting the chili peppers and cayenne. Or eliminate them altogether for a very mild chakalaka.
You are going to love this colorful Chakalaka because…
- Your grilled meats are begging for a new sidekick.
- You want to impress friends and family with this exotic and foreign spiced dish at cookouts.
- You know someone who is vegetarian or vegan and you don’t know what to feed them.
- You’re looking for something quick and healthy.
It ticks all the marks. Try it. You are going to love this tangy, spicy new way to eat vegetables. This kind of food is nothing new to me, as we always cooked veggies similar in India. That’s why I think I embraced chakalaka. Just like that… cha-cha-cha-chakalaka!!
Chakalaka, on my Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp ginger, finely chopped
- 1/2 jalapeño pepper, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, cubed
- 1 red bell pepper, cubed
- 1 carrot, julienne cut or grated
- 1 cup of green beans, cut french style or chopped
- 1 15 oz can of cannellini beans
- 2 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp paprika
- 3 tsp curry powder
- 1 ts black pepper powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
- 1 tsp bouillon powder or better than bouillon paste (veg or chicken)
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- Salt, to taste
- Chop veggies, garlic, ginger and jalapeño.
- Heat oil over medium high heat and sauté onion till it's soft and starts caramelizing. Stir in garlic, ginger and jalapeño and cook 1-2 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add green beans, bell peppers and carrots and combine everything well.
- Season with salt, black pepper, paprika, cayenne, thyme and curry powder. Mix well.
- Add tomatoes and bouillon paste or powder. Mix and cook till vegetables are almost cooked, 8-10 minutes.
- Stir in cannelloni beans and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Garnish with cilantro and/or parsley and fresh thyme.
When using salt in this recipe, keep in mind that we are using boullion powder or paste, which has high sodium content. Always taste and adjust.
You can use any kind of hot pepper like red bird eyes chili or even red thai chili peppers instead of jalapeño. Always test the heat of the jalapeño, as the heat can vary significantly. Accordingly, you can use 1/2 to 1 full jalapeño.
Nutrition InformationYield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 324Total Fat 12gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 10gCholesterol 0mgSodium 418mgCarbohydrates 46gFiber 12gSugar 8gProtein 14g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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