Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Shakshuka

This dish of eggs baked in tomato sauce is found all over the Middle East and north Africa, where it's usually eaten for breakfast. I first tried it back in the mid-80s when I was thumbing my way round Israel and had pitched up in the small northern town of Safed. I stopped at a café to get a beer and got chatting to an elderly man called Jack, who seemed to know absolutely everyone - he kept telling me, "this is Jack's town". He very kindly invited me to his home for a late lunch, which consisted of shakshuka and more beer, followed by coffee.

It took me a while to track down a recipe or two when I finally got home, in those pre-internet days - there are so many variations you could eat a different version every week for a year at least. The basic ingredients are eggs and tomatoes, obviously, and usually peppers - the variation is in the added spices and other flavourings. It's simplicity itself and if you don't fancy it for breakfast, it makes a great brunch, lunch or supper. This is my take on it.

What you need:
1/2tsp fennel seeds
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 peppers (red/green) sliced very thinly
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 preserved lemon (optional)
1 small bay leaf
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp muscovado sugar
2-3 sprigs of thyme, just the leaves
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 egg
Seasoning
A little paprika

What to do:
Dry fry the fennel seeds in a heavy sauteuse over a medium heat until they start to toast and release their aroma then pour in a generous splash of oil and fry the onion until it starts to soften and turn translucent. Add all the other ingredients except for the egg, stir it through, put a lid on and let it cook down gently for about 30 minutes.

Put the tomato sauce in a small ovenproof dish. Break the egg into a small dish, make a well in the tomatoes and gently slide in the egg. Sprinkle with the paprika and bake in a hot oven (180-190C) for about 20 minutes until the egg is fully set.

Cook's tips: 
I like my eggs well cooked, so my shakshuka always goes in the oven but it's just as usual to cook the egg on the hob. Keep the mix in the pan, make the well as before and slide in the egg. Put the lid back on the pan to help the top cook - this method will produce a runnier yolk.

A lot of versions pack in the heat, so don't be afraid to add red chillies to the tomatoes if you like it spicy.

This is also a great way to use up leftover peperonata. Just reheat on the hob and add the egg.