A whisper from the woods

Food for Thought, June 2023

Jun 1, 2023

World Wide Web

I am always amazed by the complexity and interdependency of food systems. In fact, these come together. The reason why they are so complex is precisely based on their multi-layered and multi-directional relationships.

Just imagine your last meal. Can you think of all the parties involved?

In my experience, this exercise takes a while.

From the farmer, who sows and nurtures the crops, to the person he or she sells them to. From the transporters to the retailers in our local supermarkets. Or, from the multinational companies that hold patents on seeds, to the national, international, and regional governments that build and enforce laws. The consumer, who both influences and is influenced by the market, and those who invest in this market…

The list has no end.

And because it is more than just a list of random players, losing one would change how the chain works.

Even though food is a basic right, that does not mean we should not be appreciative of it and of all those who make it possible for us to eat delicious meals every day.


Food tells a story

On the other hand, food tells a story.

And again, there are many important characters in this story. All the actors considered above are important – those who, at present, work to bring food to our tables.

But there is a deeper, underlying tale. Because it is such a basic need, food has, for millennia, been shaping cultures.

The way food is produced and what type of crops are grown; or the way food is cooked and what ingredients go together. I find it amusing to learn the context in which a given recipe was created; or how it might have changed through time.

Once we start looking at food as the collective piece of work (or art) that it is, our perception of it changes and we start giving it a different value.

The number one reason why I have become so passionate about food systems is their impact. Not only because it is big, but especially because it extends far and deep.


A South African recipe, Chakalaka

Chakalaka is the perfect example (as I’m sure there are others).

This recipe is a vegan-friendly staple in South African cuisine. Today, it is often featured in barbecues or street food stalls, as a side dish or a main. It is a comforting and flavourful dish, served both warm and cold, and its rich origin is very much reflected in this rainbow, spicy meal.

The recipe was first developed by mine workers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Workers coming from Mozambique – bringing in their traditional flavours with a Portuguese flair – would stir in a pot whatever ingredients they would have around, usually canned tomatoes, fresh vegetables, and beans.

In the end, it ended up with a delicious stew combining African, European, and Indian-Malay characteristics.


NOTE: These measurements don’t have to be exact. I used medium-sized vegetables, but use what you have and like.

  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 thumb-sized ginger piece, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 chili peppers, chopped (if you like the kick, leave the seeds, but if you are not as tolerant, make sure you remove them)
  • 30ml (⅛ cup) white wine (optional; you can use water or vegetable stock, instead)
  • 1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • ¼ cabbage, shredded
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 120ml (½ cup) tomato sauce
  • 400g white (cannellini) beans, cooked and drained
  • 1.5 tbsp spice mix: you can use a store-bought spice mix like Garam Masala. Alternatively, you can make your own mix. Here’s what I used:
    • ½ tsp dried chili
    • ½ tsp turmeric
    • ¼ tsp black pepper
    • ½ tsp dried cilantro
    • ½ tsp cumin
    • ½ tsp cinnamon
    • ½ tsp fenugreek
    • ¼ tsp ginger
    • ¼ tsp clove
    • 5 cardamom pods
  • Optional: fresh coriander and lemon juice
  1. Pre-heat a wok on medium-high heat
  2. Start by sautéing the minced ginger, garlic, and onion. You’ll get the most flavor if you give them a blast separately first.
  3. When that mix gets golden, add the spice mix and stir continuously for 30 seconds to prevent the spices from burning.
  4. At this point, add the wine/stock to deglaze the pan.
  5. Add all the vegetables together and mix well. Add the tomato paste, and let the vegetables sweat and cook for 20 minutes.
  6. Add the cooked beans and finalize with fresh coriander and lemon juice.

You can eat this both warm and cold. My preference has been to have it cold inside a pitta with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar- absolutely mouth-watering!


I hope you give this recipe a try and that you enjoyed the article above. Let us know your thoughts, either way.

One important final note that sums up the article really well: this recipe was shared by one of our community members. A blog is made by both writers and readers, just as much as recipes need a cook and an eater.

Feel free to share any recipes or any other comments in the comment section below.

If you make this recipe and share it on social media, tag us so that we can celebrate your cooking together!
Global Tree Initiative | @globaltreeinitiative
Kind Dish | @kind.dish


Please share this. Thank you!


  1. Anrich Bester

    Nice recipe and story.

    I did not know the history behind Chakalaka. I ate it on the streets, but never asked questions! 😀

    • Kika Gusmao

      I bet eating it from a street food stall makes it taste special!

      Thank you for sharing. ^^

  2. Imam Maiyaki

    I will try cooking this at home. Thanks for sharing

    • Kika Gusmao

      I am happy to hear, Imam! Let us known what you think. 😀

    • Anrich Bester

      Looking forward to seeing how yours turn out! 😀


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