I love tomatoes, and I love eggs, and I love tomatoes and eggs together.
So a lot of my breakfasts and lunches this time of year combine these two foods.
I suppose my love of tomatoes with eggs started as a child. My grandfather used to fry slices of red — not green — tomatoes and eat them for breakfast.
I’ve written about those before, and the recipe and other details are available at www.journalnow.com.
But one of my favorite other ways to eat tomatoes and eggs is in shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish I discovered a few years ago. I've written about this before, too, but my approach to the dish has changed over the years.
Shakshuka (or shakshouka) consists of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce.
It is one of the most popular dishes in Israel. The story goes that Jewish immigrants brought it to Israel from North Africa, specifically Tunisia, but it may have come to North Africa from nearby areas. Various sources pinpoint its origin to Turkey, Morocco and Yemen.
As a result, the love of shakshuka is shared by many countries around the Mediterranean and Middle East.
Shakshuka is not complicated, and its tomato sauce does not need to cook long. From start to finish, you can get it done in less than 30 minutes.
This is great to make it while local tomatoes are in season, but it turns out quite well with canned tomatoes.
The sauce is traditionally chunky. Basically, you sauté some onions, red bell pepper, chile and garlic, then add some spices, typically cumin and paprika. Some recipes also will incorporate such spices as coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and allspice. Simmer that with some chopped tomatoes until the vegetables are tender and the mixture is somewhat thickened, then crack eggs right into the sauce and poach them.
Cooking the eggs to your preferred doneness takes practice, or at least close attention, with this method. The eggs in shakshuka are traditionally served runny, but it can be tricky getting the whites to set without cooking the yolks. Often the yolks want to set before the whites.
To avoid this, first be sure to use low to medium-low heat and be patient. Compared to poaching eggs in simmering water, shakshuka eggs take longer to cook in the thick sauce.
Second, you can baste the whites with a little sauce to help them set faster. Third, covering the skillet will create steam that helps the white set faster.
Shakshuka also can be cooked in the oven, a la baked eggs. This method also tends to provide more even cooking so that the whites can set before the yolks harden.
But no matter how you cook them, you want to check them often to avoid overcooking.
Here are some more tips:
- Serve immediately. The eggs will continue to cook if left in the pan, even after the heat is turned off.
- You often see this cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Many people are hesitant to cook acidic foods such as tomato sauce in cast iron for fear that metal will leach into the food, but tests by the staff at America’s Test Kitchen and others have shown that it is safe if 1.) the skillet is well-seasoned; and 2.) the simmering time is brief. Note that any leaching that might occur would involve small amounts and not represent a health risk, but could discolor a dish and unpleasantly affect the taste.
- Only cook as many eggs as you plan to eat right then. Though the sauce will keep — and will be even better reheated the next day — the eggs won’t.
- If using the oven, consider putting sauce and eggs into individual ramekins or other small ovenproof dishes, a standard boat-shaped dish is perfect for a serving of two eggs. Shakshuka eggs can bake in sauce at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.
- There are a lot of variations to shakshuka, including versions with feta cheese, sausage, eggplant, spinach and kale.
- Shakshuka often is garnished with fresh parsley, cilantro or mint, which adds to the appearance.
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