Tomato Choka (like a fire roasted salsa, but with more personality) is not just one of my favorite vegan/vegetarian dishes, but I’d rank it among my top ten Caribbean delights. The traditional way of roasting the tomatoes over an open fire or directly on hot coals (as my grandmother would do) brings out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and the charred skin adds a lovely smoky undertone to the final dish. While I like it very spicy (you can tailor the heat level to your own liking) and served with hot Sada Roti, this Choka can also be used as a sort of salsa/dip with your favorite corn chips or toasted pita wedges. I also use it as a base for a wicked Tomato and Rice Soup!
When I want that sort of ‘roasted’ flavor and I refuse to go outside on the grill during those furious Canadian winters, I usually employ this technique for cooking the raw tomatoes on the stove top. Granted you can also drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and place then on a sheet pan in the oven to roast off.
3 large tomatoes (ripe)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic
1 green scotch bonnet pepper
1 medium onion
- wash and dry the tomatoes
- place then in a heavy pot on a low flame, stem side down to start
- cover the pot
- give the garlic and scotch bonnet pepper a rough chop (I used a ‘green’ pepper for flavor and not too much heat)
- place the garlic, salt and scotch bonnet mortar and crush with the pestle till somewhat smooth
- stir the tomatoes in the pot so they char all-over – if they release liquid in the process that’s ok
- roast for 25-35 minutes (depending on how big the tomatoes are)
- scrape the crushed pepper, salt and garlic combo into a deep bowl
- place individual roasted tomato in the mortar and pestle and crush (leave a bit of texture if you wish)
- add the crushed tomato into the bowl and repeat crushing the other tomatoes
- after all the crushed tomatoes are in the bowl with the other ingredients, give it a good mix
- slice the onion as thin as you can and place on top of the mixture
- heat the olive oil on a med/high heat till smoking
- now pour that oil directly onto the thinly sliced onion. This will help to take the ‘raw’ flavor out of the onions and also infuse the entire dish with a subtle onion undertone. Note: this step is called “Chunkay”
- Stir well, taste for salt (adjust) and serve.
For additional flavor you can fire roast the scotch bonnet pepper (till charred) and as always, do be mindful when handling such lethal peppers. Wash your hands immediately after with soap and water.