As time has ebbed and flowed, I have truly grown to appreciate the shift from the bustling, celebratory holiday season to a time where the earth seemingly stands still, giving way to introspection and leading us back to a lifestyle of inherent simplicity. During the holidays, we are regaled by friends and family with the sheer decadence of food and drink, all while taking heed and basking in the poignant traditions and customs ingrained into our core. January comes as a necessary reprieve, one that I take full advantage of, well aware that despite the hushed nature of January, the earth is actually speeding up and in the U.S., we are garnering one additional minute of daylight per day.
In the kitchen, I grapple between being a stickler and a creative, airing too often on the side of a stickler. More recently, the meticulousness of following a recipe has felt like a burden at times. As I embrace my intentions for the new year, I hope to depart from the rigors of linearity and formality — or at least strike a balance — between these rigors and the creativity deeply embedded in cooking. I want to cook organically, not only in terms of ingredients, but with how I create. I want to muster up a different kind of bubbling, creative chemistry in the kitchen, the kind that can also be found within myself.
Shakshuka was one of the first meals I cooked this year and if nothing else, the driving force behind making it was that our kitchen was sparse, if not barren. This dish is quite simple in nature and open to all sorts of interpretation. Poached eggs atop tomato sauce, featuring the usual herb, spice, and cheese stalwarts. I flexed my creativity muscle by adding BA’s crispy chickpeas into the mix, one of the few additions I could conjure up from my pantry. I also used a tomato sauce which stemmed from the garden of my girlfriend’s mother. Ripe, lush Jersey tomatoes plucked straight from the garden, transformed into an aromatic sauce. A fine example of one of the many gifts a garden keeps on giving, well into the winter months. If you are going the canned tomato route, the Muir Glen and Rao’s brands sit atop my list of current favorites.
Shakshuka has Tunisian and more recently, Israeli connotations, but the beauty of this one is that you can make it all your own depending on what blend of spices, herbs, and cheese you use. Shakshuka is a breakfast staple, but triples as a lunch or dinner option, too. I winged this one: incorporating crispy chickpeas, poached eggs, homemade tomato sauce, shallots, garlic, cumin, coriander, za’atar, salt, pepper into one mouth-watering entity. My fridge was devoid of cheese at the time, but it didn’t matter. I topped my shakshuka with parsley and cilantro, downing the dish in less than five minutes, but still with just enough time to appreciate it.
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. favorite tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, canned or homemade
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Spices of choice (cumin, coriander, za’atar, vadouvan, etc.), chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh herbs of choice (parsley, cilantro, thyme, basil), chopped
BA’s crispy chickpeas, optional
Heat olive oil over medium in a large skillet. Add shallots, cooking for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant, adding the garlic cloves and cooking an additional 2-3 minutes.
Add tomato sauce, let simmer until thickened just a bit. Make beds for the eggs and crack eggs into the respective openings. Season generously with spices, salt, and pepper. Watch the eggs until poached or look for cooked whites, but slightly runny yolks.
Remove the skillet(s) from heat and add freshly chopped herbs and crisped chickpeas (and feta or goat cheese, if you have it). Serve with toasted bread.