Foodie: The magic of shakshuka

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Foodie: The magic of shakshuka
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By Stacey Wharam

Shakshuka, pronounced Shahk-SHOO-kah, is an easy, healthy meal that is perfect for breakfast or any time of day.

The dish itself is said to have originated in either Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen or Turkey in the mid-16th century. Regardless of different countries’ claims to fame when it comes to shakshuka, the popular cuisine is now served not only in North Africa but on a regular basis in Israel and other parts of the Middle East.

This delectable dish can become the perfect vegetarian delight or a meat lover’s dream.

One of the benefits of making shakshuka is that the process is usually always a success regardless of the chef’s cooking prowess. Yes, one could even call it “goof proof.”

“Shakshuka” literally means “a mixture” in Maghrebi Arabic, and the most basic shakshuka is a simple combination of simmering tomatoes, onions, garlic, spices and gently poached eggs. But make no mistake, tomatoes and red peppers are the star of this dish. In fact, the introduction of tomatoes and peppers to the region in the mid-1500s is rumored to have inspired the creation of shakshuka.

It’s nourishing, filling and one recipe I guarantee you’ll add to your recipe collection.

Shakshuka is a one-skillet recipe of eggs baked in a tomato-red pepper sauce spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne, making it the perfect weekday meal.

First you make the sauce, which comes together fairly quickly on top of the stove. Then you gently crack each of the eggs into the pan, nestling them into the sauce. The pan is moved into the oven to finish cooking.

Although shakshuka originated in North Africa, there are as many versions as there are cooks who have embraced it. If you want to add some meat to this vegetarian friendly dish, take a cue from some regional shakshuka variants. In North African countries, lamb might enhance the dish and in Andalusia, the Spanish often include serrano ham or chorizo.

Ingredients

• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

• 1 cup chopped yellow onion

• 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

• ¼ teaspoon sea salt, more to taste

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 3 medium garlic cloves, minced

• ½ teaspoon smoked paprika

• ½ teaspoon ground cumin

• Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

• 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

• 2 tablespoons harissa paste

• 3 to 5 eggs

• ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves

Directions

1) Heat the oil over medium heat in a 12-inch lidded stainless steel or enamel-coated cast iron skillet. Add the onion, red pepper, salt and several grinds of fresh pepper and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.

2) Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, paprika, cumin and cayenne. Stir and let cook for about 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and harissa paste. Simmer for 15 minutes until the sauce is thickened.

3) Make 3 to 5 wells in the sauce and crack in the eggs. Cover and cook in the oven until the eggs are set, 5 to 8 minutes at 375 degrees. The timing will depend on how runny you like your egg yolks.

4) Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with parsley. For extra delight, serve with a side salad and spicy lamb merguez sausage and bread for scooping.

The writer has been in the restaurant business for over 20 years, and is owner of Fontaine, a café and creperie located in Old Town.

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