I inherited my love of tomatoes from my father. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his face light up for anything the way it does for a juicy summer tomato. Though my Trinidadian mother never made this dish when we were growing up, I learned to make it years later in my dad’s honor. Tomatoes are either grilled or roasted under the broiler until soft and sweet, mashed, then drizzled with hot oil infused with onions, garlic, hot peppers, and other seasonings—a method called chunkay in Trinidad.
It’s a dish that reflects the East Indian influence on the cuisine, but with a distinctly Caribbean flair. Normally the tomatoes would be cooked whole, but I love the extra char and depth of flavor you get from halving them. Classic choka is usually seasoned with onions, garlic, and lots of Scotch bonnet pepper, like the recipe on the blog Cooking With Ria. In addition to those ingredients, I include other Trini staples such as ginger, thyme, and shado beni. The ginger adds a bright kick, and the herbs bring a complex flavor. Also known as culantro, shado beni is a more pungent cousin of cilantro, which can be used as a substitute in a pinch. As Scotch bonnet peppers are not for the faint of heart, you can use half a pepper instead, or lessen the heat by scraping out the seeds with a small spoon.
Ripe tomatoes straight from the farmers market are ideal, but this is also a great way to resuscitate sad grocery store tomatoes if you’re desperate, which happens to me frequently in the winter months. In Trinidad this would be eaten for breakfast alongside sada roti, a flatbread similar to naan, but it’s also great as a side with rice or, as I recently discovered, as a hamburger topping.
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- Serves 4
extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
ripe tomatoes, halved
small yellow or red onion, thinly sliced
garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Scotch bonnet pepper, stem removed, minced
(1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
fresh thyme leaves
shado beni (culantro) leaves, minced (or ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves)
- Heat the grill to high, or heat the broiler. If grilling, oil the grates and the tomatoes. If broiling, line a baking sheet with foil to catch the juices.
- Place the tomatoes cut side down on the grill grates and cover. Or place them cut side down on the baking sheet and slide under the broiler. Cook until starting to char, 5 to 10 minutes. Flip the tomatoes and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, depending on their size and ripeness—they should be soft to the touch but still firm enough to hold their shape, and their skins should be blistering. Place the tomatoes and their juices in a large bowl and set aside to cool.
- Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and core with your hands, then mash them with a fork. (Or, if you’re impatient like me, mash them as is, then remove the skins and tough cores afterward.) They should be very pulpy, with a few chunks.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, Scotch bonnet, ginger, and thyme and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Immediately pour the hot oil and aromatics over the tomatoes. Add the shado beni leaves and salt and mix until completely combined. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. You can serve this right away, let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, or refrigerate it for up to 3 days.