If your background is Middle Eastern, hail from Israel, Lebanon, Syria or Turkey, you’re extremely familiar with Shakshouka. But most will be scratching the proverbial bean because you’ve never heard of it, let alone tasted it.
The origins are nebulous, as there’s always the primeval dispute where a dish generated its roots. It’s not typically native of the Levantine regions, but as with anything, there are permutations where dishes are recreated from country to country. In Israel it’s served as a hearty breakfast – eggs poached over a spicy, flavored tomato sauce. Similar to the Spanish Huevos a la Flamenca, prepared and served in individual round earthenware ramekins, after they have baked in the oven.
Just because one of the ingredients are eggs, that’s no reason to regard it only as breakfast fare, as it’s the apex of egg-dinner-recipes. There are many ways of preparing Shakshouka with a variety of ingredients.
Tabbouleh is a refreshing and vibrant Mediterranean salad consisting of soaked (not cooked) bulgur, tomatoes, cucumber, an obscene amount of parsley and volleys of fresh mint. Bulgur is the conventional ingredient, but quinoa and couscous have been known to play the part as substitutes. Garlic, nuts (almonds), shredded lettuce and pomegranate seeds are a nice addition.
1 28 oz can of whole tomatoes – undrained
2 garlic cloves – minced
½ yellow onion – finely chopped
1 TBSP sweet smoked Spanish paprika
1 TSP ground cumin
¼ cup of olive oil
½ TSP sugar
¼ cup of water
1 bay leaf
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1-2 TBSP fresh chopped parsley
4 Anaheim chilis or 1 jalapeño – stems and seeds removed
1 TSP of sumac powder
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
In a kitchen prep bowl, add the tomatoes, with their juices and crush them by hand – removing their center cores, as they don’t cook.
Heat the oil in a deep 12”, non-stick skillet. Add the chilis and the onion and cook until translucent – about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika and cook until the garlic is rendered soft, about 2 more minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the skillet and sauté for a few minutes. Add the water, bay leaf, sugar and cook the sauce for about 20 minutes – stirring often to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the skillet, till it thickens. Season with salt and pepper.
Crack the eggs around inside the skillet, over the sauce and cover with the lid. Allow the whites to become cooked, being careful that the yolks don’t overcook and retain their creamy and runny consistency. Sprinkle with the parsley, feta and a brief sumac shower. Serve in the skillet placing it in the middle of the table with plenty of warm pita bread.
SUMAC – A spice predominantly used in Levantine regions and a part of Middle Eastern cooking, as fabulous as it’s exotic, tangy with its lemony flavor! You can use it in salad dressings, grilled meats, marinades and sprinkled over hummus and eggs to give it a mild acidic taste.
1 cup of quinoa – well rinsed
1 garlic clove – finely minced
½ cup of EVOO
1 hothouse English cucumber – cut into small cubes
2/3 cup of fresh Italian chopped parsley
½ cup of fresh chopped mint
2 scallions – finely sliced
1 LB of cherry tomatoes – halved
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of sugar
¼ TSP each of cinnamon and allspice
In a pot medium saucepan, add the rinsed quinoa, 1 and ¼ cups of water, 1 TSP of salt and a small splash of olive oil. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes till quinoa is tender. Cover and let it stand for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Add the room temperature quinoa in a bowl and add the cucumber, scallions, tomatoes, parsley and mint.
In a small mixing bowl, add the minced garlic, allspice, cinnamon, lemon juice, spinach of sugar, salt and pepper. Mix well and whisk in the EVOO in a steady stream to create a vinaigrette. Pour over the quinoa and vegetables, mixing well. Adjusting seasonings. Allow the flavors to incorporate at least 2 hours before serving.
The use of cinnamon and allspice here creates an unusual and deep rooted, Middle Eastern flavor profile, deriving from the many open-air food markets in Damascus. It’s makes for a distinctive and exotic dish.