While cooking, listen to this: Yom Shishi (feat. Yitzhak Klepter) - Hadag Nahash
The year before I moved to Tel Aviv, I spent a summer volunteering as a first-responder with Magen David Adom, the Israeli ambulance service. You might envision me delivering babies and reattaching limbs, but legally first-responders were allowed to take blood pressure and pulse and that's about it. I did get to check the blood sugar of a man who had taken 8 Valium, though. My ambulance driver was pretty rebellious.
ANYWAY. Goodness. Why am I telling you this.
Ah, here's why. I have family in Israel, and I stayed with them the weekend before the medical course started. When I landed they were determined to knock the jet lag right out of me, and after quick beach excursion we went to an area called Nahalat Binyamin. Nahalat Binyamin is an amazing part of the city center of Tel Aviv, and it's full of bars, cafes and, interestingly enough, fabric stores. On Tuesdays and Sundays there's a massive art fair there, where jewelers, ceramicists and artists sell their wares. We bopped around the stalls until our stomachs yelled at us, and then my uncle asked me a life-changing question:
"Do you want to get shakshuka for lunch?"
"I have no idea what that is, but sure!" I replied.
So off we went to a small vegetarian cafe, where my family ordered shakshukas for the table. I have to be honest - I wasn't super intrigued when it arrived. Like, it looked fine, but how good could it actually taste?
Friends, it's as if the shakshuka was determined to make me literally eat my words, because after my first bite I was in love. Not in like, where you have fun for a while before you get annoyed by some weird habit and move on to other food stuffs. I mean, in LOVE, like immediately seeing a future full of growing old together and eating on the couch without pants on. This was real, and was going to last.
Shakshuka is traditionally eaten for breakfast, but it's a meal that can be eaten at any time of day or night. Because it doesn't take long, it doesn't feel like a daunting task at the end of a long day. Not only does it taste like fulfilled dreams, it's easy to make, cheap and filling, the trifecta of a solid meal. It's a thick, savory sauce of tomatoes, onions, garlic, bell pepper and chili peppers, with eggs poached directly in the sauce. And it is so, so, effing good. You can top it with fresh herbs, feta, olives, or whatever your heart desires, but it should always be served with a good loaf of bread.
I could extol the virtues of shakshuka for hours, but I won't, but I will leave you with this. The breakfast / lunch / dinner / drunk food of your dreams is out there waiting for you. Go get it.
Love and meows, Rina
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced or diced
1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced or roughly chopped
3-5 jalapenos (depending on how much spice you like), seeded and diced
2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 ½ Tablespoons paprika (sweet, smokey or regular all work)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes*
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Large handful of parsley, minced
Toppings: feta, olives, parsley etc.
Prepare the vegetables and spices: in a large, deep skillet or straight-sided sauté pan, add the olive oil and place on high heat until it starts to go all shimmery. Add the onion, red bell pepper and jalapenos and spread into an even layer. Cook this without stirring it around for about 6 minutes, until the vegetables go all brown and start to char a bit. Stir and repeat - cook them until they're evenly and deeply brown. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until it starts to soften and you can smell it's garlicky-ness. Add the paprika and cumin and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, then season with the salt and pepper and add half of the minced parsley.
Add the eggs: make a well near the side of the pan that's wide enough to fit an egg. Kenji at Serious Eats says to break the egg directly into the pan, but I grew up checking my eggs one at a time before using them (eggs with blood spots aren't kosher, and this method also ensures that no sneaky shell gets into your food). If you choose to go Kenji's route, crack the egg directly into the well. If you go my route, crack the egg into a small bowl, check for blood spots and shell, and then pour it into the well. Spoon some of the tomato mixture onto the egg whites - this will help the whites to cook, and will help to keep the egg somewhat contained. Repeat this with the remaining five eggs, working around the perimeter of the pan as you go. Season the eggs with a little bit of salt, cover the pan, and reduce the heat to the lowest setting possible. Cook until the whites are barely set and the yolks are still runny, about 6-10 minutes.**
Finish off the shakshuka: once the eggs are cooked to your preference (see note below), sprinkle with the remaining parsley and any other toppings you plan to use.
To serve: serve the shakshuka immediately, while it's still warm and inviting. The best way to eat shakshuka is by scooping it up with a big hunk of bread, but no one will fault you for going in with a fork.
To keep: like most egg dishes, this will not keep well. The best way to make this in advance is to prep the sauce, store it, and when you're ready to serve, re-heat in the pan and then add the eggs.
*You can crush these with your hands in a large bowl, or you can cut them with a pastry blender directly in the pan.
**I HATE runny egg whites. It might actually be a bit of a phobia. They freak me out, and I cannot be seen anywhere near them, lest I break out into a cold sweat and start to cry. As you can see from the pictures, our egg yolks are soft but pretty set, because I cannot and will not eat egg whites unless they are totally cooked. If you are like me, go ahead and cook your shakshuka longer - it will still taste bomb, and it will not have any runny egg whites lurking about. If you do not care about this at all, ignore this part. Although, assuming you read this far, that seems impossible now.