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Born in the townships of South Africa, chakalaka is a simple, spicy dish of onions, tomatoes and beans. It has been a staple for generations of black South Africans and is a required condiment at South African braais, or barbecues.

Don’t think for a minute, though, that there is agreement on what goes into the dish, how it should be served, or as what it should be classified.* Suffice to say that the basic ingredients always include onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, chillies and curry powder (and almost always baked beans and grated carrot).   As for serving, it can be served hot or cold, depending on whether you are using it as a relish or a more integral part of the meal.  Which brings me to the last dilemma – its classification.  It has variously been called a soup, a vegetable side dish, a relish, a salad, a ketchup, or an integral part of the main meal. It can be served on its own, with a meat stew, on bread, on potatoes, on rice, on boiled samp (crushed dried maize), on pap (a stiff polenta-like porridge), or as a relish on boerewors rolls.

It is possible to buy tinned chakalaka in every supermarket in South Africa (All Gold makes both a mild ‘n spicy and a hot version; and Koo makes mild, spicy and extra hot variations as well as extra hot with beans, one with butternut squash and one with sweetcorn), and almost all South African shops around the world.

Make lots  and freeze what you don’t use.   The flavours improve if it is kept in the fridge overnight and reheated, and then you can use it on almost anything. A rainbow of possibilities.

Serves 6


  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 50g / 2 oz ginger, finely grated
  • 2 green birds eye chillies, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild curry powder
  • 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, finely chopped
  • 5 large carrots, grated
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 400g / 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 400g / 14 oz can baked beans
  • Salt and  freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oil and fry the onion until soft and translucent
Add the garlic, chillies and half of the ginger; reserve the other half to add right at the end
Add the curry powder and stir to combine
Add the peppers and cook for another 2 minutes
Add the carrots and stir to make sure they are well combined with the other ingredients and coated in the curry powder
Add  the tomato paste and tomatoes and stir
Cook for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is well combined and slightly thickened
Remove from the heat and add the baked beans, fresh thyme and remaining ginger and stir to combine
Serve hot or cold

* Cooksister