Monday, February 16, 2015

Shake Shack for Lunch? No, Shakshuka.

Shakshuka, a venerable North African/Israeli invention of eggs cooked in a thick sauce of tomatoes and peppers, remains far lesser known in North America than other Mid East standards, such as a falafel, hummus and baba ganoush. Many restaurants in Jaffa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Cairo devote their entire menu to this single dish! Variations are subtle but plentiful and like the best iconic foods, shakshuka is malleable and open to interpretation and revision. Cafe Drake HRV's home-style version begins with about two T. of olive oil heated over a medium flame in a cast iron skillet or shallow casserole as above. We used an aged non-enamel Le Creuset pan; cast iron while traditional isn't essential but if you choose to finish the shakshuka in the oven you'll need to begin with an ovenproof pan. When the oil is hot, add 1 diced red onion and an extravagant dash each of cumin and caraway seeds. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the onion is beginning to soften.

Add 1 green bell pepper and 1 red bell pepper. The peppers may be diced, rough cut or sliced into thin slivers. Cook for a few minutes to extract flavor.

Now stir in 1-2 large tomatoes, diced. Also add 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro, stems and leaves both. Many toss in a handful of parsley here as well but in our opinion it's unnecessary. Do as you wish. Stir well.

Sprinkle the contents of the skillet with up to 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, a dash of sugar and salt and dried red chili flakes to taste. Cayenne pepper is a fine alternative to the dried chilies. In Israel, fresh hot green chilies are a popular addition. Add 2/3 cup of water and reduce heat. Cook uncovered until you have a wet, slightly chunky sauce. Stir occasionally and add more liquid if required. The tomatoes should have broken down before you proceed and the process will take approximately 15 minutes. Once you have a nice saucy consistency, lower the flame to VERY LOW. Make 2-4 indentations in the sauce and carefully slip in to each 1 egg. It helps if you break the eggs, one at a time, into a teacup and then slide in to the sauce. Cook over a low flame until the egg whites are just set. The yolks will be runny. Serve hot or warm.

Just before enjoying, add a few dollops of plain Greek-style yogurt to the shakshuka. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and finish with a dusting of coarse salt.

What a feast! At Cafe Drake HRV we savored our shakshuka with toasted pita wedges for soaking up the soft eggs and spicy sauce, Mediterranean olives, raw almonds and Manchego cheese.

Despite its breakfast connotations, shakshuka seems most popular as a lunch or brunch item in the Mid-East and Africa. When served with bread, olive oil and a salad, shakshuka makes an extraordinary Sunday night supper. Or so say we.

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