It’s fair to say that my tastes for good food tend to be a little more refined than most in my family. So it was, when after a weedy hike to the pond with five of the smallest children (the youngest on my back), in which we fought prickers, and stickers, thorns and (so. much.) sucking mud, ginormous spider webs and a fair share of bees, we returned home with a healthy appetite.
I was disappointed at the condition of the pond. We don’t get down there often enough to maintain it properly, nor do we possess the proper equipment (a brush hog is a hopeful must-have on our list) Scum covered the surface and there were so many aggressive weeds and thorns it was barely possible to even navigate our way around it. It made me kind of sad. Happily, we did spot a pair of ducks. Apparently the pond wasn’t despicable to all God’s creatures.
The last time I’d visited had been early spring. Winter run-off had cleaned and filled it to a healthy level, and it was alive with peepers and tadpoles, and minnows. We’d spent a day down there – one of the first warm and sunny ones – down at our pond Joe and I, mowing and pulling weeds and cleaning up debris, and vowed we’d continue this weekly through the summer. It didn’t happen.
Back to the appetite: After I’d coaxed the children out of the mud and cleaned the webs from their hair, we broke through the menacing thorns once again and landed safely in newly-mown pasture. A welcome feeling. And making our way back home, dinner was discussed – as happens to be the case around here frequently. We’re eaters, and the next meal is never far from our minds or our discussions. I’d made our main meal at noon, and so dinner was to be a free-for-all. Any manner of sandwiches, or eggs, granola, crackers and cheese, yogurt, left-overs, hot dogs sometimes. That’s what staple, free for all meals look like around here. The kids were happy with a variety of the above mentioned choices (of course no one wanted the same), but my body hungered for something different, better, and my mind wandered to the exquisitely satisfying meal I’d first eaten at a quaint Mediterranean café months earlier. Shakshuka.
Shakshuka is a delightful Israeli dish of tomatoes, and onions, cumin, garlic, paprika, chili, sweet potatoes and eggs with soft wedges of naan or pita served on the side for dipping. The meal had left such an impression that day that I had rushed home to look up a recipe and make it myself. What I learned was that there are many ways to make shakshuka. Some add green peppers, omit the sweet potato, use chopped tomatoes or pureed, and the level of spice you add in the form of hot peppers or pepper sauce is up to personal preference. In general, use what you have. It’s a very forgiving dish. It’s also tremendously healthy and warming and it’s exactly what I wanted last night. And although I’ve not gotten my family to fall in love with it, yet, I consider that tidbit of information positively: I get it all to myself when I do make it. I try to always have the ingredients on hand should the craving arise. And bonus? It only takes 10-15 minutes.
Shakshuka: (which endearingly means, all mixed up)
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Large Onion sliced
Tomatoes (crushed, canned, whole, chopped, pureed) about three cups worth. If canned, don’t drain.
1 Sweet Potato sliced; cooked, or raw (see below)
2 Cloves Garlic chopped, or minced
1 1/2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Chile Powder
1/2 tsp Paprika
Hot Pepper Sauce to taste if desired
Heat olive oil in a large skillet.
I love to use my cast iron skillet. It imparts a heartier flavor, and with proper seasoning, it’s nonstick without the potentially harmful artificial coating most pans contain. Also, with proper care, it will last forever. I use it for about everything. You can get one here:
Saute the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sweet potato and spices (I used the last of the huge cherry tomatoes from the garden, this time). If the tomatoes are raw, sauté until they pop or the skins crack and then mush up well with a spoon. Cook approximately 5 minutes. If you prefer for your sweet potato to soften to a puree, then add cooked sweet potato (delicious) Otherwise, add the sweet potato raw and it will cook but remain in chunks in your sauce (equally delicious). Crack 4 eggs into spoon sized divets made into the contents in the skillet. Salt and pepper the eggs. Cover the skillet with a lid and let steam over low/medium heat while the eggs poach in the sauce. This will take approximately 5 minutes depending on how well-done you prefer your eggs.
That’s it. Uncover your skillet and revel in the wonder that is Shakshuka.
To make it a complete meal, serve with a side of naan, or pita, or crusty bread, for dipping.
If you really want to work up an appetite in order to truly enjoy your meal, first take a stealthy hike with children through weeds mud, thickets and brambles.
Or simply take a pleasant brisk walk in the fresh autumn air.