Ottolenghi: Shakshuka!

IMG_3832The name of this dish just sounds like there should be an exclamation point at the end of it – Shakshuka! Go ahead, say it out loud and you’ll see what I mean. It sounds like the name of a 1950’s jungle movie starring Ava Gardner and Clark Gable, full of exotic drama and adventure. It lives up to its dramatic name, no doubt about it. I don’t know where Shakshuka has been all my life, but it’s exactly the kind of thing I want to eat when I’m both bored and tired; although it sounds strange and unfamiliar, this is another comfort food dish, all the way.

Onions, peppers, herbs, spices, and tomatoes cook down in oil to create a rich sauce, and then eggs are poached right in it to finish this rustic meal, and with a big chunk of crusty bread, it is indeed a meal, floral, savory, and hearty. It’s yet another example of what I like to call culinary alchemy: there is no meat, and no butter, and no cheese, but you’d swear they were all in there.

IMG_3830Here we are, all set for supper with our crusty bread. You can make the tomato-pepper sauce ahead of time, and then warm up meal-sized portions to poach the eggs in, when you are hungry for something that envelops you in warmth and happiness. That’s what Shakshuka is – happiness in a bowl. I have the ingredients for it in the house right now, and I’m pretty glad about that, because most of them will be out of season very soon, and I can make a batch to package for the freezer, to whip out some winter evening when we’re dying for some of summer’s warmth and color.

Here’s a link to the recipe at The Guardian’s website. Things to know before you begin: do not try to substitute white or light brown sugar for muscovado sugar. The dark, smoky notes of muscovado sugar are the soul of this sauce. I didn’t have muscovado sugar on hand, but after a little research, I mixed light brown sugar with a healthy quantity of molasses to approximate its flavor. I will have to find some proper muscovado sugar to make sure I was on track. The cumin seeds and saffron are also essential, so don’t balk at having those on hand, either. Cumin seeds and saffron will come in handier than you might think, and they keep a long time if kept in a dry, dark place (like your cupboard).

If you’re longing for something a little exotic, yet vaguely familiar, make some Shakshuka. It may be just what you’re looking for.

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3 comments

  1. Ahh shakshuka! Everyone in the West goes nuts for it (it’s all the rage on a bunch of food blogs), and I can’t stand the stuff – somethng about tomatoes and eggs together in that way doesn’t work well for me. That’s not to say that millions of other Israelis and a bunch of new converts to the cult of shakshuka are wrong, mind you! And, all that said, yours looks awesome!

    If I do tomatoes and eggs together, I prefer it in reverse – some halved and sauteed cherry tomatoes in my omelet.

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    • I love cherry tomato omelets as well. You’re right, it seems everyone is talking about poached eggs in tomato sauce in some form or another. Thanks for checking mine out. The spice combination makes the dish, I think; there’s plenty of “tomato, onion, pepper” sauces in Italian, Spanish, and Mexican cuisines, but changing the herbs and spices changes the whole character of it.

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  2. I agree, and I should add – cumin and saffron are among my most favorite spices, and are totally worth the cupboard space. Saffron is also amazing in desserts (Swedish Saffron buns are awesome!), and cumin is stellar in anything with legumes in it, in particular lentil soups, stews and salads.

    Furthermore, I’ve worked in the sugar industry – muscovado is made by mixing sugar with molasses, so your method was entirely right and no less ‘proper’ for having been done in a bowl rather than an industrial mixer.

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