A glass of wine, thick, crunchy bread and a pot full of shakshouka is all a girl needs to get through fall. I hadn’t timed my serving of this Israeli (breakfast) stew to match with the Jewish new year, the holiday of Rosh Hashannah, but perhaps it was all on my mind, so I’ll embrace the timing as I tell you the story of this delectable stew.
Shakshouka is a soul warming dish, a centerpiece to a table around which strangers or family can gather and dip their bread together. One of those dishes that can call people to dine with aroma alone, as it wafts from the kitchen. The weather was decidedly fall like and B’s mom was in town, our vegetables from the garden were going gangbusters. It is shakshouka season.
I make no claim on the authenticity of my shakshouka, I simply know how I make it and my own love for this recipe. I learned it from a pair of Israeli girls in a beach town in southern Ecuador during the national holiday there. I had taken a mini-break from my job and traveled to the beach, planning to spend a few nights in Puerto Lopez, then move south to Montanitas. In Puerto Lopez I was told I’d be crazy to think I could get a hotel room in Montanitas, so I traveled south a day early to make arrangements for the next night. Truly, there was not a room in the town, but this pair of Israeli ladies heard me bargaining with the hotel owner (he was trying to charge me an obscene price to sleep on the couch in the lobby, with nowhere to lock my stuff). They had an extra bed in their room, I could stay there. Arrangements were made with the hotel owner and I left, to return the next day to my room.
It was a different town the following night. For months in Ecuador I had seen no sign of wealth, Americanization or western fashion, suddenly the town was filled with Ecuadorians in Prada, Gucci, driving BMWs, it was a surreal world. Restaurants were packed, offering dinners at five times the normal cost. The Israeli girls and I were joined by a Canadian gal and we wandered the street in search of a reasonably priced dinner. None was to be had. Passing a random, somewhat sorry, vegetable stand, the girls declared that they would cook for us. We picked up a few ingredients and within 15 minutes, these ladies had turned about a dollar’s worth of ingredients into one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.
At its absolute simplest, Shakshouka involves this:
5 medium sized tomatoes, in chunks
1 Onion, sliced
Salt and Pepper
You simply saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil, season with salt and pepper (lots of pepper–its the main flavoring here), add the tomatoes, stirring until soft, simmering for a few minutes, then break the eggs over the top, allowing them to poach in the liquid. When the whites are no longer translucent, pull the dish off the stove and serve with crusty bread, breaking the bread off and picking up stew and eggs with it.
That was the version (I think we may have added a few bell peppers) that I ate that night in Ecuador. I have made a grand variety of versions since then, for large groups of hungry college students, for picky eating children, for anyone, and it is always a hit. Last night was the most extravagant version I’ve ever made.
4 medium sized tomatoes, in chunks
1 zucchini or summer squash
6 cloves of garlic
1 pound ground lamb
a handful of various types of hot and sweet peppers
1 teaspoon of cumin seed
1 small can of tomato paste
1 Onion, sliced
Salt and Pepper
This version is made in much the same way as the basic version. Saute the peppers, onions, garlic, tomato paste and cumin seed in olive oil, add the tomatoes, lamb, carrots and squash, season with salt and a lot of pepper, let the whole thing simmer for about ten minutes, then add the eggs to poach, serving with crusty bread.