The 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.
Here 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.