Shakshuka: Always Spicy, And Sure To Be Hot, In 2014

The classic Middle Eastern poached egg stew is trending, say the culinary cognoscenti.

Jewish Week Online Columnist
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Shakshuka, the classic Middle Eastern stew of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, will be one of 2014's "hot" dishes. Yahoo says it's a culinary buzzword. Buzzfeed calls it the perfect food, for 26 reasons. And Food & Wine magazine recently offered an Italian version.

Of course, if it’s destined to be the best new thing in the United States, you can bet there will be a multitude of variations from the original, as in the Food & Wine recipe. That’s what we do in this country.

I’ve made this dish so many times I’ve lost count. Each time I try to cook the perfect recipe and each time I think I’ve got it! Until the next time when it’s even better.

Can shakshuka really be very different, one recipe from another? Of course! This is a very forgiving and flexible dish. I’ve made it with fresh tomatoes and canned. And although this Middle Eastern staple is usually pareve, I’ve cooked meat-packed shakshuka using chorizo and dairy versions with feta cheese, shredded Fontina and chunks of mozzarella.

So in that spirit, let’s consider some of the changes we could make. What about adding some cooked white beans or garbanzo beans? Of course. Grilled eggplant, zucchini, spinach or the ubiquitous kale? Yes. Suppose you don’t care for poached eggs? Well, then you could make shakshuka, scrambled. Naturally, the classic seasonings of cumin, zatar and coriander can be changed; tomatoes and peppers go with a wide range of herbs and spices, including basil, thyme, marjoram and oregano.

Shakshuka reminds me of ratatouille with eggs, but even more of the classic Mexican dish huevos rancheros, so recently I cooked "shakshuka rancheros:" use pita for the bread, because it soaks up the juicy vegetables so deliciously, and instead of poaching the eggs in the pan over the cooktop, bake them Huevos Rancheros-style under a layer of grated cheese. Add a shake of z'atar, the beloved Middle Eastern spice, at the end.

Sababa! (As they say in Israel) Impresionante! (In Spanish.)

Until the next version, anyway.

Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author and cooking teacher in Stamford. Her latest book is Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com and follow on Twitter at @RonnieVFein.

Ingredients: 
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 medium serrano pepper, deseeded and chopped
4 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter
2 pita breads
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Recipe Steps: 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, Anaheim chili peppers and jalapeño pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables have softened.
Add the tomatoes, cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until the ingredients are soft and sauce-like.
While the sauce is cooking, spread the butter over one side of the pita and place the pita in a large baking pan. When the sauce is done, spoon it over the bread.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl one at a time then transfer each one next to the other on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle the cheese on top. Place the baking pan in the oven and cook for 15-18 minutes or until the eggs are cooked but with slightly runny yolks and the cheese is hot and bubbly.
For a crispier looking top, place the pan under the broiler for a minute or so. Makes 4 servings.