The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
My first chow experience was in the kitchen of my mom’s childhood friend in Port of Spain, during one of our many visits from Toronto. As she and my mother laughed about their wild times as kids growing up in the countryside, she worked on several ingredients. No measurements were used, no cutting board. She just sliced things up, paring knife in one hand and green mango in the other, dropping pieces in a bowl without missing a beat, or, in fact, even looking at what she was doing. A long-leafed herb was torn into pieces and thrown in—I later came to find out this was shado beni. A copious amount of lime was squeezed over everything. She tossed it all together a couple of times, then put it down in front of me. I was suspicious (were those raw onions? Teenage me hated raw onions) but I was also raised right so I went ahead and dug in.
“What is this?” I asked, heaping more forkfuls into my mouth. She chuckled and simply replied “chow.” I looked at my mom accusingly for never having made it for me. This simple snack was one of the most incredible things I’d ever tasted. I interrogated my mother’s friend on all the ingredients, and kept insisting there must be something else. She just kept laughing (as Trinidadians are wont to do). Why it’s called chow I don’t know, but I do know I chowed down so… too easy?
This simple Trinidadian salad can be made with green mangoes, ripe mangoes, pineapple, apples… the options are theoretically endless. My personal favorite is a version with cucumbers. Their refreshing flavor and texture combines with the smoky heat of the peppers, bite of the garlic, herbaceousness of the shado beni, and zip of the lime to create a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts and can be on the table in five minutes flat.
In Trinidad, chow might be found for breakfast, as a snack, or a topping for fresh fried shark on the beach (that’s a whole other story). This cucumber version is a refreshing foil to grilled meats or fried foods, and a welcome addition to backyard cookouts or picnics.