Addictive Food 1: Shakshuka (Israeli-Style Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce)

DSCN7296It was a sunny day in Copenhagen today (honestly rare for this time of the year), so I thought, “why not share a recipe for some eggs cooked sunny-side up?” While these weren’t quite the case (maybe due to the fact that I poached my eggs a minute too long), today’s post is all about this magical sauce, and how your meatless mondays, sunday brunches, or weekday lunches can be taken to a whole new level.

Shakshuka is dish of eggs wildly popular in Israel. Travel there and you’re DSCN7286likely to be served this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (hopefully not the same thing three times in a row though)! The point is that this dish is so versatile that it can fit into any meal schedule. It certainly doesn’t live confined by any appropriate eating hour. A spicy and tangy tomato-based sauce is simmered away until it has thickened to a consistency of lusty ragout, and then it is crowned with cracked eggs, which are allowed to be poached gently until the whites have just set and the yolks are still runny. When you come in to dip with a piece of pita or crusty French bread, the yolks meld with the sauce and this combination is one of life’s best kept secrets.

DSCN7257There are many times where I can’t stop myself from drawing comparisons between Indian food and other cuisines. The minute I saw that this recipe contained cumin and turmeric, I couldn’t help, but think “Indian similarities” in my head. However, the combination that really gave off the Indian vibe was that of bringing together garlic and vinegar. In India we use a similar technique (well it actually originally came from the Portuguese) when making the world-famous dish, vindaloo. Known for being extremely spicy, the heat content in vindaloo comes from combining large amounts of garlic, chili peppers, and ginger. While one may think that the spiciness comes from the chili, it is actually a result of the addition of vinegar which not only exentuates the picant nature of chili peppers, but it also brings out hidden spice elements in ginger and garlic DSCN7277as well. Case and point, while I was making this shakshuka, I had only used a measly little jalapeno pepper, but quite a bit of garlic. When I added the vinegar (and this was just a small amount), I was surprised (in a good way of course) at the amount of heat the came out of the dish. It had me smiling and yet again reaffirmed by the phrase, “good food travels”.

DSCN7273Of course there are native flavor elements here that I wish to celebrate as well. Salty chunks of feta cheese and peppery arugula give Shakshuka its definite Mediterranean influence. Paprika adds a fine smokiness, but the spice that really had me singing praise was the wonderful taste of those caraway seeds. Imbued with the taste of liquorice, caraway seeds add a fennel-like freshness that comes when one uses fresh herbs to finish out a dish. The taste was present throughout in each and every bite, and it made this Shakshuka very Middle-Eastern indeed. Not to mention, the taste did have me licking my plate clean and wishing that I had made a bucket-load of sauce, so I could have had it frozen and ready at my disposal. These eggs are just that addicting folks.DSCN7262

DSCN7292Recipe: Shakshuka

Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (keep the seeds in if you want it spicy!)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed or 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, or about 2 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup, loosely packed greens, any variety, recommend: arugula, spinach, swiss chard, kale
  • 4 ounces (about 1 cup) Feta Cheese, cut into bite-size cubes
  • 4 to 6 eggs

Method

In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it is hot, add the caraway seeds and toast them in the oil for about a minute, till they begin to release their aroma. Then add onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until DSCN7266softened. Then add the chili pepper, salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, and paprika. Cook for a minute or two, stirring around frequently until the spices begin to release their fragrances.

DSCN7269Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, honey, and vinegar. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for about 12-15 minutes, till it has thickened in consistency but still freely shake able around the pan. Stir in the greens.

Turn off the heat and press the feta cubes into the sauce, crushing them slightly. Make 4-6 indentations into the sauce with the back of a spoon. Crack an egg into each indentation. Drag the spatula ever so slightly across the egg whites so that they can meet up with the sauce, but DO NOT TOUCH THE EGG YOLKS.DSCN7283

Turn the heat back on and adjust it until the sauce is back at a gentle simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, basting the egg whites with the sauce from time to time, but making sure that the egg yolks remain undisturbed. Then proceed to cover the pan and cook for 3 more minutes, if you want the egg yolks to remain runny, or 5 minutes if you want the egg yolks to be fully cooked. Serve warm at the table with plenty of crusty bread or pita for dipping.

Cooking Notes:

  • This could easily be transformed into a vegan recipe by replacing the feta cheese with olives and then substituting the eggs with either tofu or mushrooms. 
  • You could make shakshuka without eggs and serve it over pasta if that floats your boat.
  • Wine Pairing: I was really craving a red wine when I made this, and I feel that something as robust and gutsy would play wonderfully with this meal.
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