Friday, January 29, 2016

Baker's Corner: Shakshuka

The first thing that popped into my head when I heard the name 'Shakshuka' was the image of a diabolical Bollywood villain sneezing violently! Lame jokes apart, I had bookmarked a recipe for Shakshuka years ago but never got around to it. The idea however, had always been lurking at the back of my mind. A final burst of inspiration came after a recent visit to The Egg Factory in Bangalore where I OD'd on at least half a dozen egg-based dishes including their rendition of Shakshuka.

Shakshuka or Shakshouka is a one-skillet recipe of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions, often spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne. Although under debate, it is widely believed to have a Tunisian origin. It can be the perfect dish for brunch lunch or even 'brinner' (breakfast disguised as dinner) though in Israel it is synonymous with breakfast served with a pile of pita or challah on the side to mop up the sauce. This is an easy dish to prepare at home and the recipe can be interpreted in many ways. The sauce comes together fairly quickly on top of the stove. After that it is only a matter of gently cracking each of the eggs on top of the skillet, nestling them into the sauce and then baking in a pre-heated oven for a few minutes. Or else you can do the whole thing on the stove-top.

Easy-peasy!



Apart from being simple and satisfying, this dish is also wholesome and waistline-friendly. Eggs are a good source of protein, iron and essential vitamins; tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene (a strong antioxidant); bell peppers are known for their antioxidant and vitamin C content and parsley is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. You can tweak the ingredients to include spinach, okra, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, corn, peas, chickpeas etc thereby customizing it to your taste and enhancing the nutritional profile (at the cost of authenticity though!). Fresh ripe tomatoes can be used in this recipe but I prefer canned whole plum tomatoes because it gives a richer, more intense color and is more convenient. Most recipes call for the use of anaheim peppers (which is not a commonly available ingredient in this part of the world) but you can alternatively use jalapeños for some heat. Keep in mind that the anaheim pepper falls in line more with the bell pepper – a somewhat sweet pepper flavor whereas the jalapeño pepper has a bright grassy bite to it. And lastly, although different people like their eggs cooked differently, for this dish ideally, when served, the eggs should be still runny so that the yolks mingle with the spicy sauce.

I have adapted the recipe from The New York Times which strays from more traditional renditions of this North African dish by adding crumbled feta cheese. I love feta cheese (the husband not so much) so it is not a variety of cheese that features commonly in recipes that come out of our kitchen. But for this particular recipe, I made an exception because I made this dish all about me! tee...hee The feta softens into little creamy nuggets in the oven’s heat and makes this version moreish.

Me and the husband were very pleased with how this recipe turned out and this is going to be a keeper for sure! My only complaint was that for the size of my skillet, I should have used four or five eggs instead of six so the lovely red sauce would have been more visible underneath. But apart from that, stunning overall!

Update: Look how nice it looked when I tried this recipe a second time with only 4 eggs



Make this for your egg-loving family and/or friends and watch them slobber all over it! 

Shakshuka

Preparation time: 40 min
Baking time: 7-10 min
Serves: 4
Recipe category: Breakfast/brunch, lunch or dinner (North African/Middle-Eastern)
Recipe level: Easy
Recipe source: Adapted from here

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and diced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, adjust according to taste
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes with juice, roughly chopped
¾ teaspoon salt, or as needed
¼ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
1-2 teaspoons honey, adjust according to taste
5 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) feta cheese, crumbled 
6 eggs
Chopped parsley, for garnish

To serve:
Warm pita or any crusty bread of your choice
Hot sauce

Method:

1. Prep all your ingredients. Heat oven to 375 deg F (190 deg C)


2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.



3. Add the chopped bell peppers and cook until very soft, 5 to 7 minutes


4. Stir in cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook 1 minute


5. Pour in tomatoes and season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; add the honey and simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes



6. Stir in 1 cup of crumbled feta. Taste the sauce to check for the seasonings



7. With the back of a spoon, make 6 indentations in the sauce. Crack an egg into each indentation, then drag a spatula gently through the egg whites so it mingles a bit with the tomato sauce, being careful not to disturb the yolks. Season the eggs with salt and pepper



8. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 8 minutes

9. Sprinkle with parsley and the remaining 1/4 cup feta cheese.

I thought the additional feta sprinkled on top would make the dish salty and so I avoided it but later on as I was eating the dish I had a change of heart and did sprinkle crumbled feta. It was great! 


10. Serve immediately alongside warm pita or any crusty bread of your choice with a drizzle of hot sauce


Notes:
  • Some recipes of Shakshuka balk at the idea of using onions but I like onions and hence I have used them
  • You can use a red bell pepper instead of the green kind. I used the green kind just for extra color
  • You can use fresh ripe tomatoes instead of the canned variety. Just immerse them in boiling water and remove the skins. Skip the cayenne and add 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder (if available) to get the brilliant red color
  • If you like more spice, you can use jalapeno peppers or anaheim peppers stemmed, seeded and finely chopped in the sauce
  • You can use halloumi cheese or goat's cheese instead of feta 
  • The number of eggs would depend on the size of your skillet so decide accordingly
  • If you are finishing the Shakshuka in the oven, make sure the skillet you are using is oven-safe
  • The eggs will cook further in the skillet from the residual heat after you have taken it out of the oven or stove-top (if you choose to cook the whole thing on the stove-top) so serve immediately for runny yolks 
  • You can use cilantro for garnish instead of parsley 


Cheers,

Megha

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