When I first starting cooking for myself, I turned to eggs cooked in tomato sauce for a warming, nourishing last-minute dinner. With a little sautéed garlic and a chopped onion (if I had one) in the pan, the gooey eggs broken into the sauce satisfied my hunger, and I’d wipe every last traces with a slice of toast. Eventually, I found that the dish pleased my kids, too, and still at the end of long day, I can take comfort in this quick, complete meal.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, it turns out this dish is a Tunisian specialty called shakshuka, also eaten by Israelis for breakfast or lunch. The ingredients flex to include many vegetables, and while spicing varies, it veers toward traditional Middle Eastern blends. There are many ways to make this simple dish: Curried versions include coconut milk and ginger; Portuguese versions add a bay leaf and extra onions; and still other versions include chickpeas, potatoes, eggplant or sautéed greens. I gave my version a summertime twist, incorporating cumin and harissa, a spicy North African red pepper paste to enhance the fresh peppers and tomatoes.
Feel free to give this recipe your own personal bend. If your garden is no longer producing fresh tomatoes or convenience is important, you can use home-canned tomato sauce, diced tomatoes or salsa. Be generous with fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives or cilantro, if you have them. Add cheese and a dollop of Greek yogurt, as my daughter did during a weekend brunch for friends. Feta seemed the natural Mediterranean choice, but fresh chevre or grated Parmesan will also provide the proper salty balance. Just don’t forget some chunks of good bread to swab the plates with.
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 T. olive oil
- 2 T. harissa or 2 not-too-hot chilies, minced
- 2 large sweet peppers, cleaned and diced
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp. cumin
- salt, to taste
- 5 large ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 1 large can diced tomatoes, or 3-plus cups mixed
- tomato sauce and salsa
- 8 eggs
- 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
- fresh herbs, to taste
- Greek yogurt, to garnish
In large frying pan, sauté harissa, peppers, onion, garlic and salt in olive oil. Cook until peppers soften, then add tomatoes. Simmer about 15 minutes, until sauce thickens.
Make small craters in sauce with back of soup spoon. Gently break eggs into the depressions. Keep yolks intact, but try to spread out whites. Cover pan to help eggs cook through. Just before serving, sprinkle on feta and fresh herbs. Carefully spoon out the individual eggs along with some sauce, and garnish with spoonful of Greek yogurt.