My foodie son Jacob first got interested in making shakshuka, which he describes as “a dish made of poached eggs in a spicy tomato stew with feta cheese on top that you eat with pita,” when he was in Barnes and Noble one day, reading a book about food photography that featured Israeli food. (As I said, he is a foodie.) Luckily for me, after he and his dad went on a nice, brisk winter hike yesterday, Jacob was inspired to try out the warm and homey looking dish for himself.
I asked Jake what appealed to him about making shakshuka. Jacob said, “In the book, it was talking about how Israelis value freshness and healthiness. It’s a little bit like Italian food—they’re both Mediterranean—but Italians value the fatty good stuff more. Israeli food has more Greek/Middle East/North African influences. It’s actually a Tunisian dish. But Israelis eat it all the time.”
How does the young chef make shakshuka? “You need a twelve inch skillet that’s flat on the bottom and high on the sides, like a cake pan. Then you get the onions diced, and get the jalapenos or other spicy pepper cooking in the pan with a quarter cup of olive oil until the onions are translucent or golden brown. I did translucent because Dad was really hungry.”
“You have to be patient, stirring it occasionally, then it’s done. Then add cumin, paprika, and five cloves of crushed, diced, garlic. With that, you have to stir it constantly for one to two minutes, until the garlic is soft and cooked. It smells amazing, like the most fantastic thing in the world, at this point. All that stuff mixed together in the oil smells heavenly.”
“Then you take a 28 ounce of whole tomatoes, pour the liquid into a large bowl, and crush the tomatoes with your hands. You add the crushed tomatoes and the liquid back together, and add half a cup of water. Pour it into the skillet with a half cup of water, stir it and keep the heat a little to let it simmer. Let it simmer until the sauce is thick. The directions said fifteen minutes, but it was actually ready after eight.” Add salt and a little bit of ground pepper.
While the sauce is thickening, he said, it’s time to get some pita bread, wrap it in foil, and put it in the oven at low heat. And it’s also time to make up the Israeli salad. “The base salad,” he said, “ is cubed English cucumber, roma tomatoes, or whatever kind is the freshest, green peppers, and red onion. You core the tomatoes, slice them horizontally, and dice the sections. The cucumbers and onion also get diced. Then, add half a cup of feta cheese. The recipe said add one and a half tsp. of sumac, but we didn’t have it. So we just used lemon juice and I cut up lemon slices to put into the salad. I used lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and it was just killer. The lemon juice captures the Mediterranean feeling. You could put in other pretty looking vegetables if you want to make the most vibrant, popping salad. It said to use olives, but we didn’t . You could add some salty capers or olives if you want, but the salad was salty enough with the feta. If you use olives, you want to slice them. I would choose black olives for contrast and to give it that Mediterranean look. But green would be okay. Toss it. If you have too much liquid, drain it with your hand.”
preparing to add the eggs
But now, it is time to turn tomato sauce into a meal—and that means adding the eggs. “At this point,” Jacob says, “you take out the eggs, set them on the table, get more feta cubed, and prepare a tablespoon of parsley leaves. Eggs will go bad really fast if you leave them out, so wait till the last minute. What you do at this point is, you take six eggs, and you crack them one by one around the skillet, and drop them strategically on the skillet on top of the sauce. You will immediately see the egg whites starting to turn opaque. Basically, the eggs will get poached in the tomato sauce. Put them around the perimeter and the inside–Get the most area with the eggs. Also note that an egg is one serving with the sauce around the egg. So space them out. Once you crack those six eggs on top of the sauce, you cover it with a lid for five minutes. You’re still on medium low/medium, whatever the simmering temperature is. You might want to do this for even less. We got some harder centers and some softer. But five minutes was fine. It sets.
Jacob’s Shakshuka, almost done.
“Then, take off the lid. You baste the eggs slightly by dripping a little bit of tomato sauce on them. Then you sprinkle a half cup of cubed (or crumbled) feta on the top and parsley and sprinkle it on the top.”
After that, serve the eggs and pita and salad. Between Jacob and his hungry parents, there was nothing left by the end of the meal—we had savored every delicious bite. It was surprisingly filling, too. So if you’re looking for a really healthy, tasty, exotic and beautiful-looking meal, just get Jacob to make Shakshuka for you. Hey, it worked for me! One more piece of advice: “Before you make it, read ALL the directions first.”
Jacob and his finished Shakshuka. Yum!
Writing Prompt: What’s something delicious you’ve made lately? How did you make it?