Similar to Mexican huevos rancheros, this Middle Eastern and North African dish of eggs poached in a tomato based sauce is just as satisfying for dinner as it is for breakfast. Perfect for Meatless Mondays.
I had a client recently ask me if I could try my hand at styling and photographing shakshuka.
Shakshuka? I had never heard of it. She sent me some examples of how the dish is supposed to look when she made her initial inquiry. Unfortunately, timing was off and she wound up not needing the image I shot but it gave me a really yummy introduction to this simple, yet deceptively complex-tasting dish.
Interesting to me when she sent me the recipe to use, it was very reminiscent of my mother's huevos rancheros that I shared here. So it wound up that the flavors and technique for poaching eggs in a tomato based sauce where very familiar to me and I was excited for the challenge of making the dish sexy enough to photograph successfully.
Much like the Mexican huevos rancheros I grew up with, shakshuka is a tangy, earthy, sweet and slightly spicy braise of tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and spices to which eggs are added to poach in the barely simmering sauce. After reading the supplied recipe, I went online to do a little research. Shakshuka (also spelled shakshouka, Arabic slang for "a mixture") is thought to have Tunisian roots. It's popular in Libyan, Algerian, Moroccan, Egyptian and Israeli cuisines. I read that there were lots of variations to the basic recipe: some didn't add bell peppers, some swapped out the individual spices for harissa, some added feta cheese (yum, btw!). For the shoot, I needed to stick to the basic recipe that was supplied, which is what I'm sharing here with you today with one tiny tweak that wouldn't be noticeable in the photograph: I subbed smoked Spanish paprika for regular paprika which I feel really balances out the acidic nature of tomatoes and compliments the onions and garlic well.
It was stressed to me that for the shoot, the yolks had to be bright and yellow and as perfect as possible. If you want the same, it's actually quite an easy thing to do and the technique can be transferred to regular sunny side up eggs made in a skillet. The secret is this:
- Remove eggs from refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to cooking.
- Place a small sieve over a cup or small bowl. Crack the egg into the sieve, swirl a bit, allowing the runny watery whites of the egg to drain through. Place the egg that's left in the sieve into individual little bowls or ramekins. Discard the watery whites. (Bonus tip: This technique makes for the most perfect poached eggs as well.)
- If making regular sunny side up eggs, add a generous amount of olive oil to your cast iron or nonstick pan. When oil is hot and shimmering, turn the heat down to low and carefully slide the egg in one at a time (I cook only one at a time so that I can have more control over the olive oil poaching). Here's the important part: don't touch the eggs, don't move the pan. Allow the egg to sit in the oil undisturbed on the lowest heat setting possible for at least a full 2 minutes. Why? Because when you first put the egg in the pan, there is a thin layer of whites coating the yolk. You want to wait long enough for that thin layer to completely slide off the yolk. This might take a bit. So be patient. After a full two minutes, use a small spoon to gently baste the egg white with the hot olive oil. If you must, spoon a little of the hot oil first at the base of the yolks to see if they white over. If they don't you can then spoon some hot oil over the yolk. Personally, I don't. I just spoon it over all the white until the white is set but still jiggly which ensures that the yolk will be lusciously thick and runny. And that's how you get perfect sunny side up eggs.
- If making the shakshuka, most recipes say to crack the eggs directly into an indentation in the sauce and cover the pan to finish cooking. DON'T if you want the pretty sunny side up eggs for presentation. Instead, crack the eggs as described above through a sieve and then into their own small ramekins as so that all the eggs are ready to go into the pan one after the other. When they're in the pan, allow them to simmer undisturbed until the whites are set up to your liking. Preferably, just until the whites set up, ensuring the yolks have thickened but are still runny.
There is a lot of sauce in this recipe. Feel free to make some whole grains to serve as a bed for the sauce and egg or maybe even some polenta. Or save the extra sauce to toss with pasta for one the next day. No, you don't need to use a cast iron skillet, but it's preferable.
Yield: 5 servings
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
24 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
5 eggs, room temperature
1. Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet. When oil is shimmering, add onions and allow to sweat for 2 minutes, stirring often to keep from browning. Toss in the garlic and stir continuously for an additional minute. Work in the peppers, stirring well to combine and cook for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the herbs, stirring well to incorporate. Stir in the tomatoes, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Bring to a hard simmer, cover then reduce heat and allow to simmer on low for 15 minutes.
2. Place a small sieve over a cup or small bowl. Crack the egg into the sieve, swirl a bit, allowing the runny watery whites of the egg to drain through. Place the egg that's left in the sieve into individual little bowls or ramekins. Discard the watery whites.
3.Lift lid from pan, stir well then using the back of a large spoon, make five indentations in the sauce. Carefully slide an egg into each indentation. Turn heat down to just keep a low simmer in the sauce and allow to cook, uncovered, until egg whites are just set, about 5 to 8 minutes longer. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve immediately.
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(click on photo to go to recipe)
(click on photo to go to recipe)
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