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.
This version makes a much smaller quantity than traditional recipes and is perfect for refrigerator pickling, bypassing the whole canning process. I used the food processor to shred the veggies and the relish is finer, next time I would dice the peppers and onions by hand.
Makes 3 Pints
1/2 head small cabbage, cored and shredded
4 large hard green tomatoes, chopped
3 green peppers, chopped
3 red or yellow peppers, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup chiles, diced small, optional
1/3 cup salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- Chop all the vegetables. If doing by hand, dice small. A food processor can speed the process but will extract more liquid from the vegetables and make for a runnier relish. Note: the size of the dice will make a finer or chunkier relish. The chopped vegetables should equal about 2 1/2 quarts.
- In a non-reactive bowl, mix the chopped vegetables with the salt. Cover and let sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for about 12 hours or overnight. In a colander, drain and rinse vegetables. Squeeze to remove excess liquid.
- In a non-reactive pot, bring the vinegar, sugars, turmeric, celery and mustard seeds to a boil. Add the drained vegetables and return to a boil again. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes; stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Use hot or cold to dress burgers, brawts, beans, sandwiches, roasted meats or in a marinade. Like most things pickled, it’ll be better after it sits a day or two and should keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.
Tony’s Chow Chow: for a sweeter and greener relish (see picture above), use additional 3/4 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup regular sugar; use green cabbage and replace a red bell pepper with a green one.
Spicy: for a milder bite try jalapenos without the seeds; for hotter, leave the seeds and use serranos or the ultra hot habanero.
Vegetables: other versions use zucchini, celery, cauliflower, cucumbers, asparagus, corn, etc. It’s up to you; just watch the ratio of chopped veggies to vinegar particularly if you plan to can.
Canning: follow canning process and after the chow chow has simmered, ladle into hot, sterilized pint jars, cover with new two-piece lids, and process 15 minutes in a boiling bath.