Friday, December 24, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

In the middle of all the Christmas mono mania--the list of gifts to procure, the wrapping, the social events, the endless carols playing everywhere--we made a departure with dinner last night: Johnny Cash was singing while we ate shakshuka.

Well, maybe there's a tenuous and unintentional connection between tonight's dinner and the holiday, since both the dish and the Christ child were born in Israel. But that's just occurred to me now. I really made the shakshuka
to appease the curiosity developed after reading about it on the Smitten Kitchen blog and to use up my accidental surfeit of eggs purchased for all the holiday baking I have yet to do. (Some year, I swear...)

Shakshuka is basically eggs poached in a tomato sauce spiced up with onions, (in this version, although an alternate and very Jewish source I checked out forbade them), hot peppers (I used jalapenos), garlic, cumin, and paprika. The lively concoction then gets garnished with crumbled feta and chopped parsley for more flair.

From my limited research, I gathered that this dish is Isreali home or comfort food. It's usually served as I did, in the skillet in which it was cooked, to be dished out at the table. Some restaurants pretty it up with individual skillets or ramekins, but I like the rustic idea of plunking it down in the center of a hungry gathering and participating actively in its diminishment.

We certainly diminished ours. We left just enough to see if it's good for breakfast tomorrow with father-in-law's spicy sausage and toast. We have to make it to Lupper time for Christmas dinner, so bring on the protein in the a.m.!

While I admire any recipe that can make dinner out of inexpensive ingredients in one dish (I added spinach to make it complete), my favorite part of the shakshuka experience (other than its name, which sounds like a vigorous exotic dance to me) was savoring the creamy yolks as they complemented and tamed the spiciness and acidity of the sauce. Of course, warm whole wheat pita bread for sopping in all that sauce isn't a bad thing either. Not at all.

Frankly, I'm glad for any chance to cook dinner this week, whatever the meal. Christmas shopping and socializing has had me, and will continue to have me, away from home, kitchen, and blog for most of this week. (Which is why I love January, but that's another grinchy topic.) I'm grateful that during the readiness festival that is Christmas week, there was this total departure dinner that made me think of dancing instead of demands. Viva la Shakshuka, baby!


Serves: 4 to 6

1/4 cup olive oil
5 anaheim or 3 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, crushed then sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled or diced tomatoes
Kosher salt, to taste
6 eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Warm pitas, for serving

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (Deb called for a 12-inch, but I used my 13-inch French skillet without incident.) Add chiles and onions, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft and golden brown, about six minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about two more minutes.

Add tomatoes to skillet (If using whole tomatoes, place them in a bowl and break them up with your hands before adding.) along with 1/2 cup of water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt.

Crack eggs over the sauce so that the eggs are distributed evenly over the sauce's surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. (If you forget this step, which I did, rest assured that it will be good anyway.) Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley, and serve with pitas for dipping (and sopping and smearing your plate pretty much clean.)

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