Thursday, November 4, 2010


Ok, so I promised a blog on Chakalaka, so here goes.

Chakalaka started out as convenience food for me, because it is available in my local market by the can, but has become my South African comfort food, my “chili” if you will. To purchase it by the can, it’s easy to keep in the pantry and to prepare, it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s delicious.

At first, I felt really guilty, eating so much canned food in an area where there is no recycling, but I seemed to have overcome my aversion! (Guilt, guilt!)

In South Africa, you’re likely to be served chakalaka as a “salad” at a braii. (Braii, rhymes with sky = cook out in South Africa). At a braii, on your plate, you’ll be served 2 pounds of beef, 1 pound of sausage, 1 pound of chicken, and 3 pounds of the stiff corn porridge (pap or bagobe, similar to corn grits). If you’re lucky, you’ll be served a tablespoon of chakalaka as your “salad.”

So what is chakalaka?

Chakalaka is a vegetable sauce made from tomatoes, carrots, onions, green peppers, and oil. The best chakalaka is, of course, homemade, but you can purchase chakalaka by the can in “mild and spicy” and “hot and spicy” flavors. Additionally, you can buy it with added beans, added corn, or added butternut squash.

I love it hot and spicy!

You can eat it straight out of the can, and if it’s too hot to cook, I like it served as a relish/sauce over chunky raw vegetables (cucumber, lentil sprouts, carrot scrapes, and chopped apple) and canned beans. My favorite way to eat chakalaka, however, is to cook it up with cabbage:

• Lightly steam ½ head of cabbage in chicken stock (bullion, in my case)

• Add 2 crushed bay leaves, and 1 ½ T of whole cumin seed

• Simmer until cabbage begins to soften (about 5 minutes)

• Add ½ chopped onion and 1 chopped chili pepper (if you like it spicy—I do!)

• Salt and pepper generously

• Simmer another 5 minutes

• Add one can of chakalaka and one can of (starchy) beans

• Simmer until mixture is good and hot

Serve piping hot with a good dollop of sour cream and a good dollop of spicy Indian pickle. I like to eat mine with a whole wheat cracker (Ryvita: South Africa’s version of RyeKrisp) but you can serve it over rice or with potatoes. This recipe fills a deep skillet and could probably serve 4 normal eaters, but this same portion serves as my lunch and dinner. I eat it hot for lunch and then put the remaining half away for dinner—and eat it cold for dinner.

I like it spicy enough to need a hanky nearby to wipe the tears from my face and blow my running nose! Ooooh, eeeee! (Of course, you need not make it THIS spicy: you can purchase the milder version of chakalaka and forgo the addition of fresh chilies and spicy Indian pickle.)

What is Indian pickle? I was actually introduced to this lovely condiment back in the States: a good friend took me to an Indian restaurant, introduced me to the spicy Indian pickle, and rocked my world! (You can purchase Indian pickle in a milder version as well.) It is a condiment of chunky vegetables “pickled” in spices and oil. Delicious!

Can you purchase chakalaka in Louisville? I’m not sure. I’d love it if someone could let me know. Perhaps in some of the ethnic markets or Lotsa Pasta?

Also in South Africa, there is a condiment widely favored here that is similar to the Indian pickle, called atchar (pronounced “ought cha”). It is made from green mangoes and is available in mild and spicy varieties. I like atchar, but prefer the Indian pickle.

When we had our Mid-service Training in Pretoria back in September, we were treated to a glorious buffet three times a day. At breakfast, someone asked me, “Do you like oatmeal?” I replied, “I love oatmeal. I eat it every day of my life when I’m in my village” and proceeded to dish up my three kinds of meat and fried potatoes. I ate like a glutton and felt like a glutton and made myself ridiculously ill—for a full week! Since returning to my village, I’ve been craving my version of chakalaka and have been eating it nearly every day. My body responds much better to a simpler fare.

My friends and family back home have sent me “goodie packages” from the States all along, but one of my favorite items included is “a pinch of any favorite spice you have on hand.” In this way, I’ve accumulated a wide variety of spices and having this “spice collection” has brought great happiness to my “plain” life in Africa. It continues to delight me, meal after meal.

So, I promised a blog on chakalaka, and here it is. And all of this talk has made me hungry, for, guess what! CHAKALAKA!



  1. Sounds wonderful. I will check the markets. My favorite lunch is a bag of frozen stir fry veggies, cooked with cabbage, onion, and smothered with chili hot sauce. a bit similar?

  2. I will also commit to checking local markets.. if not maybe your new business when you get home is born :-)

  3. Sounds yummy! Thanks for the mouth-watering blog and the laugh from what you get at a brai...

  4. I love cabbage too! Mostly I eat it on the bland side, boiled with potatoes and sausage or (as on H'ween) with corned beef and veggies. Chakalaka sounds great!

    I've been eating "Halloween black beans" with my favorite tomato omelet, on nachos, by themselves, etc. The beans are "Halloween" because they are black with rounds of yam and carrot for pumpkins, and navy and butter beans for ghosts. The stock is 5 lbs. caramelized onions & 1 lb. sauteed celery, with salt. I rinsed the beans of their first cooking water and the second is still plenty rich, but no gas. They had a small chopped onion and some bay leaves in their water. The spices are:
    Thyme, oregano, chipotle chili powder (best & cheapest from Lotsa Pasta), biryani (from the South End--Kristin & Leila shared!), cumin, paprika, and pepper. I tend to have a fairly heavy hand with the spices but it was a big batch.

    Do bring a few cans back! Or send them...we'll send potage!