How to Make the Perfect Spicy Chakalaka

South African Food - Chakalaka and Rice

Chakalaka is savory, sweet, and spicy all at once, making it the perfect dish to serve whenever you want something simple to make but complex in flavor. It can go with almost anything, and you can throw almost any vegetable into it, so every chakalaka recipe is a bit different.

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How to Make Perfect Spicy South African Chakalaka

The Origins of Chakalaka

The dish most likely originated from Mozambique workers living in Johannesburg, but you’ll now find it is made all over southern Africa, especially in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

South African Food - Pouring in the Chakalaka Seasoning

So What is Chakalaka?

Some people think of it as chakalaka salad or as a relish, but we think it’s just plain yummy! Below we list some ideas for how to serve it and what to pair it with, but we always start with a few big spoonfuls right out of the pot. 

This is one of the first Zimbabwean dishes that Valentine showed me, and it’s easily my favorite one to make on my own! The biggest difference between my chakalaka and his is that I’m not very skilled with a knife, whereas his knife cuts are just gorgeous.

The good news is that following his recipe is easy and it tastes just as good, even if my julienne cuts are a bit raggedy and my onion dices aren’t uniform. 

South African Food - Pouring in the Chakalaka Seasoning

What You’ll Need to Make Chakalaka

Here’s what you’ll need to make chakalaka at home:

Basic Equipment List

You don’t need fancy equipment to make chakalaka at home! You’ll want a large pot with a lid because the delicious flavors come from letting the vegetables and spices simmer together on the stovetop. 

For preparing your vegetables, you’ll want a good knife and cutting board.

For the carrots, we use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer and then grate the carrots with a typical boxed grater. 

Simple Ingredients List

2.5 medium white onions

2 large tomatoes

4 medium carrots

4-5 jalapeno or chili peppers 

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 green bell pepper

1/3 head of green cabbage (optional)

1/2 can of peas (optional)

2 cloves of garlic

4 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 can of baked beans

1 cup of water

2-4 tsp. curry 

1 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. ginger spice

You Can Make Chakalaka Spice Ahead of Time

If you want to make chakalaka spice ahead of time (or use a store-bought version), then don’t include the curry, ginger spice, or paprika when you cook. Use the chakalaka spice instead. 

Here’s our chakalaka spice blend recipe.

South African Food - Chakalaka and Rice

What to Eat with Chakalaka? Our Serving Suggestions

If you will be using chakalaka as your main course, you can pair it with maize or rice.

The most traditional way to eat chakalaka is with pap (also known as sadza).  We use Iwisa Super Maize Meal. 

Our preferred rice to serve chakalaka with is basmati rice. 

If you want to serve the chakalaka as a side dish, we like to serve it with Peri-Peri chicken and pap (or rice). 

Because this is a popular dish for barbeques and cook-outs, you can also pair it with almost any kind of grilled meat or vegetables. Because it’s so versatile, it would make a great dish to bring to a potluck or holiday dinner (especially in the summer)!

South African Food - Peri-Peri Chicken, Chakalaka and Rice

What to Drink with Chakalaka

The first thing that comes to mind is to have it with a great refreshing beer, especially if you want to wash down the bit of spicy kick. 

If you want to pair it with a wine, you’ll want to keep in mind what kind of meat you’re serving. We usually have chakalaka with chicken, so a nice, light white wine works great. If you want something like Chardonnay, stay away from oak-ey California versions which can be too heavy. 

If you’re serving vegetables or eating it as a main dish, I would also stick with white.

However, if your meat is red meat, go for something simple like a Shiraz. 

For non-alcoholic drinks, if you want something special then think barbeque party fare like lemonade.

Yield: 6 servings

How to Make the Perfect Spicy Chakalaka

The perfect spicy chakalaka recipe to serve as a side dish or as a main course!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 2.5 medium white onions, diced
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated
  • 4 medium carrots, grated
  • 4-5 jalapeno or chili​ peppers (to your preferred taste and heat levels), diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/3 head of green cabbage, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 can of peas, drained (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 can of baked beans (about 14 oz)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2-4 tsp​. curry (to your taste)
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger spice

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil on high. Once the oil is heated, reduce the burner to a medium temperature.
  2. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Cover the pot. Stir occasionally until soft and tender. (About five minutes).
  3. Add the chili peppers, cover the pot, and let it sit for five minutes.
  4. Add the Chakalaka seasoning (curry, paprika, and ginger), tomatoes, carrots, sugar, and water. If you're adding any optional vegetables like peas or cabbage, add in now as well. Stir together and cover the pot.
  5. After twenty minutes, add in the baked beans. Stir together and cover the pot. Let the pot sit for five mintues.
  6. Turn off the stove, and let the pot sit for ten to fifteen minutes before serving.

Notes

The flavors will become more complex over time, so feel free to make ahead and let sit for longer.

If you don't want to use half of two different colored bell peppers, you can use either a red one or a green one. We like to mix them for the color and the slightly different flavors, but we know sometimes you just want to use one pepper!

Make sure to grate the tomato over a bowl since it will be mostly liquid. If you've never grated a tomato before, don't grate all the way to the end. When it gets close to your fingers and is mostly just peel, stop. Just use the grated portion.

Because the flavors meld together over time, this is a great dish to eat as leftovers.

For this version, we didn't use cabbage, but we often make it with the cabbage. It's great both ways!

To make the dish less spicy, reduce the number of chili peppers you use. Make sure to test how spicy they are before cooking. Of course, chili peppers can get spicier or less spicy from being cooked, so use your best judgement for you and your family.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 250 Total Fat: 9.9g Saturated Fat: 1.9g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 399mg Carbohydrates: 37.9g Fiber: 9.2g Sugar: 16.8g Protein: 7.6g
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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How to Make Perfect Spicy South African Chakalaka Recipe