I confess that even though I lived in the South (Austin, Texas) for several years and am married to a brotha, I’d never eaten chow chow until last summer. Chow chow, also called “cha cha” or “piccalilly” in some parts, is a pickled relish of chopped vegetables that has its origins in Southern fare and Soul Food. As with the name, there are many variations of the relish but nearly all contain green tomatoes, cabbage, onions and peppers.
All you gardeners, who salvaged your summer veggies before the freeze and now have green tomatoes laying about willy-nilly, should give this recipe a go.
For this recipe, I got some direction from my friend Tony, a man of many talents – artist, athlete, handy-man and cook. He graciously shared a recipe and some of his chow chow. His version is greener, in line with tradition, and it’s sweet (think Southern sweet tea sweet) especially when eaten alone. But, on a burger, it’s delish and a good addition in a marinade for grilled chicken, because the sugar caramelizes nicely.
My version, adapted from Tony’s, is spicier, less sweet and has a reddish hue (I used my garden bounty – red cabbage and more red and yellow bell peppers). It also has a bit of a “wang” because I used Thai and serrano chiles from my garden. Next time I have a hankering for a pickled relish – I’ve got my own.
Tidbits on Green Tomatoes:
- Tomatoes and other nightshade plants like eggplants were grown on Southern plantations decades before acceptance in other colonies or England, according to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America.
- There’s some debate about the origins of the name “chow chow,” some say it comes from the Mandarin Chinese word cha, which means mixed, and dates back to the 1840s when Chinese laborers worked the railroads in the American West. And, others say it is derived from the French word for cabbage, chou.