Tchaka, a family tradition
Pretend today is Saturday and not Wednesday. Now dim the lights. Better yet, light a tèt gridap in a room featuring a straw bench. Ok perfect. Now let’s talk.
The picture painted above is the one that comes to mind when I think of this casserole, if I can call it this way for lack of a better word. Could it be because it depicts the exact atmosphere of eating tchaka?
If we’re talking about my childhood then it most definitely does. I recall tchaka being a dish my grandmother prepared on rare occasions when she brought the family together at her house on certain Saturday evenings. It was always dark out, and, if memory serves me right, we sat in her living room where the light was always dim creating a quiet and peaceful family atmosphere.
Tchaka was one of my grandmother’s specialties and a favorite among her children and grandchildren. She only prepared it on special occasions because, according to her, it couldn’t be prepared on a whim.
Made with red beans, dried corn and heavily smoked and salted pork meat, pork feet in particular, tchaka was a dish that required daylong work. Long simmering hours were a must for the flavors to completely develop. And that they did; the smoky taste of the pork meat permeated the entire dish making each spoonful a delight.
Today, I still remember her tchaka. I have yet to eat a tchaka that tastes better than hers – yes I know, I also said that about her bonbon sirop recipe. But it’s true, my grandmother’s cooking has to be the best I ever tasted, and I will never stop repeating it. So, at the risk of being redundant, I will say it again. When it comes to tchaka, no one else’s ever seems to taste quite right.
There is one thing I must point out, however. Preparing it doesn’t need to keep you on your toes all day long. Though, it seems to require long hours, the preparation method for this dish is actually quite simple.
The beans and corn are thoroughly cooked in water, while the pork feet and meat go through the same process. They are then combined and left to simmer until the desired thickness is achieved. Sounds simple doesn’t it? So did it really require daylong work like grandma claimed? Couldn’t she have prepared it more often for us?
I know she salt-cured the pork herself so that might be one reason why she saved this dish for special occasions. Then again, maybe that was her secret ingredient: building anticipation among her children and grandchildren so that they would really enjoy her company and appreciate her even more than they already did.
Whatever her reasons might have been, we will always remember her famous tchaka nights.
The success of this recipe relies mostly on the pork meat that needs to be salt-cured for its flavor to come out. My grandmother didn’t add pumpkin to her tchaka, but, since a lot of people do, I included it below as an optional ingredient. If you wish to add some to yours, puree a cooked piece and combine it with the previously cooked ingredients before simmering.
- 1 part red beans
- 1 part dried corn
- 1 salt-cured pork feet
- Pumpkin (optional, read above)
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Piment bouc
- Cook the beans and corn in unsalted water
- Thoroughly cook the pork feet covered in water in a separate pot
- When the corn and beans are ready, add the pork meat to the mix and season to taste
- Let simmer until the desired thickness is achieved. Serve hot as a main dish.