Wow. Where do I start? I have a serious soft spot for foods with simplistic (read: ‘natural’ and ‘cheap’) ingredients, that don’t take days to prepare, and have loads of flavour. This is one of the simplest dishes I’ve quite possible ever made, and it’s put a giant smile on my face and nice little brick in my stomach (but in a good way!)
With the exception of the miniature cast iron pan used to make the dish, the whole meal only set me back about $6 or $7. The Israeli recipe I found online uses roasted peppers as well but I opted out of it due to time restraints (aka: my hunger/patience level). You can find cast iron pans all over the place if you don’t have one already, and a miniature one will cost you somewhere in the realm of $10 to $15, and large being approximately $30 to $40. I even saw a cast iron Wok! Ah yes, imagination can run wild now, as usual. This is my very first time cooking dinner for myself in a cast iron pan. I remember camping a few times with a cast iron pan as a kid, and in my early twenties it was used for veggie frittatas at my friend Carrie’s apartment in Whistler, on those cold blustery winter afternoons. Remember Carrie!?
*sigh* The good old days.
Now I’m here in my little city apartment reminiscing over old ‘cast iron pan memories’, while trying out a new type of cuisine I’ve been meaning to experiment with: Israeli. I love the flavours used in these traditional dishes, and I find them all to be fairly simple, fresh, and using nutrient-packed, local, natural ingredients. Here in North America we have nearly limitless options at the supermarket, we can buy all sorts of produce and proteins from all over the globe. This is great for those of us who’re creatively inclined in the cooking department, however it comes at a price: the quality of nutrients and flavor of the product, are obviously compromised. Early harvesting is necessary in order to transport the items before they come to proper ripeness, at which time you’ll purchase them in the grocery store. All produce is best (and packed with it’s full potential of nutrients) when properly ‘vine ripened’, and not harvested in it’s green stage. Yes we have limited options for dinner at certain times of the year, but what ever happened to a little appreciation for seasonal things? Can’t we embrace what nature gives us in our respective regions at certain times of the year? Can’t we appreciate the little things?
This is what separates different cuisines around the world from one another: the use of ingredients that are abundant and therefor also affordable, there. In that region. They’ve created dishes over the centuries based on what they have, and have learned to meld these flavours together into one of a kind wonders. They embrace what the lands give them and create a little magic with it, as cheese-ball as that sounds.
That is food.
Here; we can eat what we want, when we want, and we don’t really have any particular distinct cuisine to ‘define’ our culture. We are a melting pot here in Canada, which is also a great thing for us foodies who can’t get enough of the ‘eating-exploring’. If you don’t know what ‘eating-exploring’ is, then you need to get off the couch and get out there. Eat anything. Eat all. There’s so much to learn.
So, today’s inspiration is Israeli cuisine, clearly. A little bit about Shakshuka/Shakshouka from Wiki (of course!):
Shakshouka (Arabic: شكشوكة; Hebrew: שקשוקה) (also shakshuka) is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, often spiced with cumin. It is believed to have a Tunisian origin
According to food writer Claudia Roden, Tunisian cooks added artichoke hearts, potatoes and broad beans to the dish. Because eggs are the main ingredient, it is often on breakfast menus, but in Israel, it is also a popular evening meal.  It has been said to challenge hummus and falafel as a national favourite, especially in the winter. According to some food historians, the dish was invented in the Ottoman Empire, spreading throughout the Middle East and Spain, where it is often served with spicy sausage. Another belief is that it hails from Yemen, where it is served with zhug, a hot green paste. Some versions include salty cheeses.
For this Shakshuka:
cast iron pan
1 small onion
1/3 can tomato paste
1/2 can cherry tomatoes (or chopped)
1 green or red pepper, roasted (I was lazy and left this out)
garlic, cumin seeds, chilli flakes, salt, pepper
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley
bread for mopping up the goodness, homemade is better!
-Preheat you oven to 350 F (bottom heat is what I used) and toss in your cast iron to get it nice and hot.
-Chop and saute you onion with the spices and garlic. Add the tomato paste (and peppers if you’ve included them), and saute another 5 mins on medium heat. A little bit of ‘crustifying’ on the bottom of the pan is good, it’s spices and caramelized vegetable sugars developing flavour, and you’ll deglaze this with the tomato juices.
-Add your chopped or canned cherry tomatoes and allow to simmer for 5 to 10 mins. Stir to incorporate the spices and onion that collected on the bottom of the pan earlier.
-Transfer the mixture, while hot and bubbling, to the heated cast into pan. Create a bit of an indent/hole in the mixture with a spoon and gently pour your eggs on top of the tomatoes without breaking the yolks. Place in the oven for 10 to 15 mins or until your eggs are medium poached (cooked on the outside but still partially runny in the middle.
-Cool for a couple of mins before eating, as the cast iron holds heat very well and it along with it’s contents are extremely hot!
-Top with torn pieces of parsley, rip up some bread, and get eating. Easy peasy.
So…. as autumn approaches, and as I start to see the colours and textures changing in the produce stands as the season changes over again, the next project will be to cook foods according to the season. Embrace what we have, make the most of it, appreciate the little things, and maybe even a little canning & pickling? We’ll see 🙂
Happy ‘Shakshuka-ing’ ?!….