Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chakalaka vs. Chakalaka

Some foods are magnets for controversy. Take the topic of barbeque sauce. Is true barbeque sauce vinegar- or tomato- based? Toss that question into an up-to-that-very-moment civil conversation in North Carolina, and watch the dust fly.

The subject of chakalaka might inspire a similarly heated debate in southern Africa. However, just as all meat-eating North Carolinians would agree that pulled pork is the ideal destination for barbeque sauce in any form, there are also points of agreement about chakalaka. So, let’s start there. Chakalaka is a spicy mixture of sautéed vegetables, with tomato, onion, garlic, bell pepper and chili pepper the essential ingredients. It is also commonly accepted that the dish originated in southern African mining towns, invented by miners who would take whatever veggies they had on hand, throw them in a pot and serve the outcome alongside stiff maize-meal porridge (sadza in Zimbabwe, pap in South Africa, sima in Malawi).

From this point on, everyone has his or her own chakalaka preferences (South African food bloggers included). You can choose to add curry powder, ginger, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cauliflower, green beans and/or baked beans. You can serve chakalaka hot or cold, soupy or firm. You can make your chakalaka from scratch, or pour it out of a can. And you can call the final product a stew, relish, sauce, gravy, or side dish.

The recipe below is for a gourmet chakalaka – the southern African equivalent of trying to gussy-up coleslaw. Note, in particular, the use of a pretentious shallot and the ridiculously-named patty pans (pictured left). This chakalaka is cooked until the veggies are just tender, giving the dish a colorful, confetti-like appearance. In the carefree spirit of chakalaka, I tossed in some of the dried okra powder I had recently purchased at Mbare Musika. It didn’t add much flavor, but it did contribute that distinctive glutinous okra texture, which was actually quite helpful in making the chakalaka stick together.

Today, chakalaka is served alongside many carbohydrates other than sadza/pap/sima, including cornbread, rice and, in this case, a tart.

Chakalaka Tart
Adapted from Food and Home Entertaining, May 2006

Makes one 9” tart, about 6 servings

1 half-recipe Martha’s pie dough, minus the sugar
30 milliliters / 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 bell peppers (preferably two different colors),
seeded and finely diced
Small handful of green beans, finely diced
2 hot red chilies, finely diced, with their seeds
4 baby patty pans, finely diced (if you don’t have baby patty pans, substitute one yellow squash)
1 small eggplant, finely diced
2 medium carrots, grated
2 plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried okra powder (very, very optional)
Sour cream or a soft, creamy cheese, to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius).

Lightly flour your countertop and roll out the dough so that it will fit into a 9” springform pan. Carefully move the dough from the counter to the pan, and press the dough into the pan. (In my pan, the dough went about 1¼ inch up the sides.) Next, line the sides and bottom of the dough with aluminum foil and pour in a single layer of pie weights, rice or beans. Bake blind for about 15 minutes, until the top bit of crust you can see has lost its pale color.

Meanwhile, begin preparing the chakalaka. Pour the olive oil into a good-sized fry pan, and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and the shallot, and sauté 5-8 minutes until the shallot is translucent.

At about this time, your oven timer will be sounding. Remove the foil and weights from the tart pan and bake the crust for about 10-12 minutes more, until it is a uniform toasty-blond color. Let the tart crust begin to cool.

Back at the stovetop, add the bell peppers, green beans, chilies and patty pans to the mixture in the fry pan. Sweat for three minutes. Add the eggplant, carrot, tomatoes, salt, sugar and dried okra powder and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until everything is soft, but hasn’t turned into a mushy mess. You should be able to look into the pan and still distinguish most of the vegetables.

Spoon the chakalaka into the tart crust, remove the sides of the springform pan, and serve in slices. Top each slice with a dollop of sour cream, or a soft, creamy cheese.

No comments: