Chakalaka Is The Unexpected Ingredient For A Spiced Up Grilled Cheese

From Mexican pico de gallo to Indian chutney, most cultures have at least one go-to condiment to dress up meat, fish, or staple carbohydrates. In South Africa, chakalaka is a fan favorite that no barbecue, stew, or slice of bread can go without. A fusion of native and colonial influences, chakalaka is an easy one-pot baked bean and vegetable relish bursting with aromatics like garlic, ginger, and onions, and robust spices like coriander, curry powder, and cumin, and Thai chilies provide a hot finish.

Chakalaka's trifecta of sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors would be the perfect addition to a grilled cheese sandwich. In fact, it's already a star ingredient in the South African version of a grilled cheese known as braaibroodjie, or a cheese and tomato toastie. The baked beans provide a caramelized and tangy complement and a pillowy texture for the spicy and savory aromatics and spices. Cheese would be the ultimate creamy, salty, and savory pairing, while toasted bread will soak up the chakalaka's flavorful juices and supply a crunchy finish.

There's no set recipe for chakalaka, so you can elaborate the relish with your favorite vegetables or any leftovers you want to use up. Plus, its versatility allows you to customize the spice level and vegetable pairings you think would work best for a grilled cheese sandwich. Any leftover chakalaka would make a flavorful garnish for a hot dog or hamburger, or even act as a vegan stew to serve over steamed rice for a lazy dinner.

Ingredient recommendations and cheese pairings for chakalaka

A traditional braaibroodjie recipe features chakalaka, cheddar cheese, raw onions, and sliced tomatoes grilled to perfection. Since cheddar cheese is also the fan favorite for grilled cheese sandwiches in North America, you can mimic the South African recipe or simply omit the raw onions and tomatoes. However, any type of melty cheese would work with chakalaka's diverse flavor palette.

Jack cheese or pimento cheese would bring peppery heat to a grilled cheese and chakalaka sandwich. Gruyere, mozzarella, and brie are more decadent, creamy options that would complement the vibrant spices and caramelized notes in chakalaka. For the most uniform melt, shred hard cheese instead of adding chunks or slices. Another helpful and efficient tip for the perfect toast on your bread is to slather butter or mayonnaise on the outside of each bread slice before placing the sandwich on the griddle or non-stick pan.

If you'd rather have a more veggie-centric relish with a crunchier texture, you could omit the baked beans and pile on shredded cabbage, carrots, and zucchini. Since baked beans contain that sugary, tangy tomato-based element, you can add cider vinegar, brown sugar, and tomato paste to the chakalaka to compensate. If you want to amp up the spiciness of chakalaka, dice jalapenos or serranos to fry with your aromatics instead of bell peppers.