KC 140 - Shakshuka

Why Hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. I’m Jon O’Guin, the Knight of the Table Butter, and today, we’re talking about a dish that I have TALKED about for years, but never actually made. To understand why, we’ve got to talk about a couple facets of who I am, as a person, how we make posts here, and I GUESS the history of the dish we’re doing. Crack some cans and shells, we’re getting saucy with Shakshuka.

 

Mirrors, Masks, and Neil Gaiman’s MirrorMask

So, dear readers, I have to confess something to you. Two somethings…no, three, technically. The First 2 are conditional statements, while the latter is a more generalized truth: firstly, understand that this section is…emotionally difficult for me, in a way that drove me to heavily edit it. I’ve removed over 500 words from it. Second, that due to unforeseen circumstances, and general hedonistic intent, that Sober Jon, introspective and cautious dick that he is, is no longer running the show. Drunk Jon is here, and this post has to be up in 12 fucking hours, so we’re going to bounce through this shit like Sonic into…fuck, what are those pinball-pushy-things called? Bumpers? That sounds right.

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Turns out, they’re just called “springs”.
Someone in marketing took the day off, it seems.

Lastly, and more on-topic: despite my many admonitions against it, dear readers, I have often been considered something of a sage. No, not the herb. In many situations, for reasons that sometimes beggar belief, people have turned to me for advice or information. Information, sure, I get. I’m a walking encyclopedia of bullshit very few people need to know. I can explain to you the multi-decade legal battle between Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn), and how it was resolved 4 years ago in a way no one but comic nerds noticed. I can tell you the sentence that Julius Caesar supposedly spoke, that Shakespeare then EDITED to “Et Tu, Bruté?” (it’s “Kai su, teknon?”. Which means roughly the same thing, but is Greek, rather than Latin, as Shakespeare put it. (It’s also more intimate, as “Bruté” is simply a familiar rendering of Brutus’s name, while teknon means ”child”. As in “my child”.) I can tell you how to write e’s with accent marks (hold the Alt key and press 1, 3, 0, then release the Alt key.) So yeah, information, sure. But advice?

At different points this has been for different reasons. Recently, my role as a food blogger and cooker of elaborate and diverse dishes has made me a source for cooking conundrums. Before that, I was a source for Theatre information, being, often, the only guy in the room with an actual degree in the discipline. But before both of those, briefly, I was consulted as a source of relationship advice. And let me tell you right now: I’m NOT a good solo source for relationship advice. I’m definitely MUCH better than I was, but even now, it’s a little like the polar opposite of seeking the advice of your thrice-divorced uncle on how to make a marriage last: we both have a track record of 0 successful marriages, but he’s 0 and 3, while I’m 0 and 0.

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Both of which are still much better score ratios than Brazil had a couple years back.
See, I can make sports references sometimes!

And I feel somewhat like an imposter whenever I’m called upon to speak in that regard, as I’m simply parroting the maxims and ideas I’ve learned from other sources. Except, when you think about it, that’s a weird position. Since “repeating the good advice you’ve heard” is basically the foundation of ALL GOOD ADVICE-GIVING. So, on the one hand, I feel like an imposter, but, on the other, I’m aware that, in the majority of cases, so’s everyone else: they’re simply telling you what they believe/have experienced, which may or may not work for you. It’s the ‘true secret’ of adulthood: no one, deep down, knows what the fuck they’re doing. They’re trying, the best they can, to repeat what they think is right, and what they’ve heard is right. 

This all has remarkably little to do with Neil Gaiman’s Mirrormask, a 2005 film about a young girl who’s mother is dying of cancer, so she enters a psychedelic and confusing CGI world, but I don’t apologize for citing it in the title, because I don’t apologize for sharing ANYTHING written by Neil Gaiman with people, because it’s almost always fucking rad.

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Sometimes it can be weird as all hell, but it’s also mostly rad.
Don’t worry about the sphinxes. Just like, throw a book at them or something. They like books.

Anyway, that long rambling discussion was meant to highlight the point that I am often called on, these days, to address food issues, as if by having cooked Thai Noodle Bowls, I MUST know the secrets to pickling eggs, or can perfectly recommend a simple, exotic, and delicious meal that fits exactly the likes and dislikes of your household. Which is, of course, utter drek, to use the English expression: I write Kitchen CATASTROPHES, not fucking “Culinary Triumphs”.  But, there’s one dish I’ve been plugging in person for YEARS now. Surprisingly, I can only find one reference to it on the site itself, but I assure you, I’ve been talking about it, and about making it, for at least 18 months. That dish, TODAY’S dish, is shakshuka.

 

Egg on My Face

To explain how I can have INTENDED to make a 30 minute dish for 18 months without succeeding, firstly, I’d like to remind you that the last 18 months have not been a particularly good stretch of time in my life, nor one for radical culinary experiments, using my recent personal tragedy to make you feel bad that I suck at organizing things, and, secondly (and far less emotionally damaging) I want to remind/explain how exactly I write these posts.

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While once such a task would have been done on parchment, or maybe clay tablets, today, we can use the power of computers to do it!

To use a culinary term, all my posts are written a la minute, or “at the minute”, as you could hopefully infer. When I finish a post on Thursday, I take the rest of the day off, and then start on the next post on Friday. If I go out drinking, or perform in a show, or anything else eats up my time on the weekend, then I try and adapt and fit in the research/writing. This is for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad. But that’s not what I want to talk about. No,  what I want to talk about is how I pick the recipes I cover in these posts.

Now, sometimes a post’s topic is picked by my Patrons, or tied to a theme, but more often than not, it’s simply tied to me thinking a particular topic looks good. I read about a dish, and I decide to make it. The problem with such a slap-dash operation is, simply, that it relies on me REMEMBERING the dish when I go to buy groceries. I can tell you right now that like, 3-4 weeks ago, I thought “you know what would be a great dish? Maafe”, and I have UTTERLY failed to remember it every time I’ve gone to a store since, despite Maafe having been a BIG emotional and culinary comfort to me during my dad’s illness.

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Look, Peanut Butter Stew is surprisingly comforting. We’ll talk about it later. Maybe.

And what made shakshuka so hard to remember is…how LITTLE it needed. Like, I have chickens at home, so I don’t need to buy eggs. Spices? I’ve got fucking spices for DAYS. My pantry would have been a king’s damn RANSOM back in 1066. (Or, as I call it, “the only year it was cool to be called “Norman”.) Other than those, the recipe is canned tomatoes and a couple jalapeños. That’s just little enough effort to fall into what I call my “negligible nook”: the part of my brain that knows a thing is easy to do, and could be handled at any time…and therefore refuses to waste the time handling it NOW. Future Jon can handle it, he’s got plenty of time.

Thus, despite recommending the dish multiple times, and watching food shows that dug into how delicious and simple it was to make, it’s taken me WAY too long to tackle this one. Let’s try and make up for that, as we sample Shakshuka.

 

Let’s just Make a Mess

So, the one time I referenced the dish on the site was as part of KC 78: Chakalaka, where I discovered that, as far as all the sources I could consult knew, no one knew what the hell the etymology was for the South African relish Chakalaka, and narrowed it down to two options: either it was a Spanish/Hebrew word, derived from AZTEC, and somehow brought to a Dutch colony on the tip of Africa, OR, it was tied to a Tunisian (read, North AFRICAN) tomato stew that served as the originator of modern day Shakshuka.  I figured the latter was more plausible.

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Though, if I’m wrong, I will never hear the end of it at the Annual Jaguar Warrior Meeting.

Now, if you go back even FURTHER, you find a dish that’s going to have some BLATANT similarities with shakshuka: ouva en purgatorio, or “Eggs in Purgatory”. If you’ve forgotten, and/or don’t want to click a link, Eggs in Purgatory is an Italian dish with a simple premise: make a spicy tomato sauce, poach some eggs in it, and serve with like, crustini. Shakshuka is a very different dish, where you make a spicy tomato sauce, poach some eggs in it, and serve with like, some PITA.

Etymologically, the dish doesnt have a whole lot to offer in terms of originality either. shakshouka is Tunisian Arabic for “a mixture”. That’s it. it’s basically the Middle Eastern version of “hash”, it’s so generalized. Hell, the version that’s popular nowadays isn’t even the version they made in Tunisia, which had stuff like artichoke hearts, beans, and even POTATOES, deepening the “hash” comparison.

So yeah, the idea of the dish is really pretty straightforward. What’s really interesting, to me, is the cultural weight of the dish: see, following the end of World War 2, and the formation of Israel as a modern nation, there was a mass emigration of Jews from Mediterranean countries to Israel. One country in particular was Tunisia, whose Jews brought to Israel a stewed vegetable and egg meal that slowly took the country by storm. Today, Shakshuka is considered perhaps the 3rd most iconic and widely consumed dish in Israel, after Hummus and Falafel.

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Falafel ain’t awful, is what I’m saying.

Now, let me give Tunisia/Israel some props here: when Italy wanted to make a spicyauce for eggs, it started with garlic and red pepper flakes. Shakshuka starts with dicing up 3 whole jalapeños to make the base for this bad boy. Toss those with some diced green pepper and onions, and you’ve got a spicy sofrito-esque base for this Levantine luncheon. (Actually, Shakshuka’s eaten for basically any meal, but you know my addiction to alliteration adversely alters my assonant assignations.)

Then comes some actual spices, because the English language has difficulties parsing the distinction between “intensely flavored due to various powders, herbs, and other flavor-compound carrying articles” and “containing a great deal of capsacin, the “hot” chemical in chiles”. But To your peppers, peppers, and onions, you add cumin, paprika, and garlic. Cumin, despite being predominantly associated with Chili in America, is also a big component for earthy warm flavors in Middle Eastern foods.

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Arabian SPIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICE
Like Arabian DAAAAAAYYYYYSSS
More often than not,
Hot, hotter than hot
in a lot of good WAAAAAAAAYYYYSS

Add to those sweated alliums, bloomed spices, and perked-up peppers some canned fire-roasted tomatoes, stir, and simmer that sauce for 20 minutes or so. This is going to be the basic sauce of your shakshuka. Also, at this juncture, if you want, you can reverse time and start the whole process differently: while many shakshukas are entirely vegetarian, consisting of simply vegetables and eggs, some shops and recipes add ground meat into the sauce to flavor it and enrichen it for a more substantial supper, which is what I did 20 minutes ago by sautéing sweet Italian sausage in the pan and using the sausage fat to sweat my onions and peppers rather than simply vegetable oil.

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This is not my first encounter with time-taveling pork products.
Or, maybe it is, just…again. Time Travel is confusing.

 If you’ve prepped your sasauge, toss it back in with the tomatoes to better meld the flavors. Twenty minutes of low-key bubbling, and your sauce should be marginally more liquid than when you dumped in the tomatoes, since they’ll have given up their own liquids to the sauce. But it should still be fairly thick, which is perfectly fine. Once the sauce is flavored and simmered to your liking, it’s time to finish the dish: push 3-4 wells into the sauce around the pan, and gently pour eggs into each well. Cover the pan, and let steam for 5 ish minutes, until the whites of the eggs are set, but the yolks are still runny.

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Or, as that dick up in the top right wants to be, just BROKEN.

This process always takes longer than it should for me, for reasons no one in my family can ascertain. As far as we can tell, I just make eggs cook slower. Eventually, however, your eggs are cooked, and you can serve the shakshuka by ladling out portions of the sauce topped with an egg into bowls, where the diner can crack the egg themselves and integrate the egg as they see fit.

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As you can see here, I chose to bury it, like most of my shames.

The resulting dish is…surprisingly mild, given its fiery forging. The three jalapeños have just been generally subsumed into the sauce, along with the garlic and cumin. The dish is just…warm. Filling and warm, like good pot roast, or a nice casserole. It’s exactly the kind of food to keep the touch of fall/winter at bay, and put a nice little fire in your belly before bed.  This is, other than the irritating cooking length of the eggs, something of a Culinary Trumph. Maybe I should consider renaming the site in light of these events.

While Jon’s eggs are nominally free, his chickens do need to be fed. Luckily, they’ve turned out to love unsweetened coconut flake, which can be bought wholesale for rather cheap. Help Jon feed his fowl through Patreon, where a donation of $1 a month helps keep the site in tip-top shape, and Jon’s chickens in culinary bliss. If feeding fowl fails to force feelings from you, then maybe you’re more of the heraldric type, desirous of proclaiming Jon’s fleeting victory through social media, by sharing this post, or inviting your friends to like our Facebook page that others might be illuminated.

If you don’t want to do either of those things, I don’t blame you. The alcohol that fueled Drunk Jon’s takeover of this post is swiftly burning out as it nears four in the fucking morning, so he doesn’t feel like it either. Hell, he doesn’t even feel like using the LESS tiring First-person anymore. So he bids you a fine day, and leaves Sober Jon to handle uploading the pictures in the morning.

THURSDAY: DID I SAY WE WERE GOING TO THE FAIR? THAT SOUNDS LIKE SOBER JON. LET’S GO TO THE FAIR, THEN.


MONDAY: WE’RE EITHER CONTINUING WITH A ‘SPICY FOREIGN FOOD’ VIBE, OR A “BREAKFAST YOU CAN EAT ANY TIME” VIBE, DEPENDING ON HOW CONFIDENT I AM NEXT WEEKEND.

 

Recipe

Shakshuka

Serves 3-5

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ lb sweet Italian sausage, crumbled or shaped into small balls. (teehee)

3 jalapeño or other hot peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 small green or yellow sweet pepper, very finely diced

1 yellow onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 large can (28 ounces) crushed or diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 eggs per person


 Preparation

1. In a large skillet on medium heat, heat oil. Add peppers and onions; sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown. Add garlic, cumin and paprika; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and mild, about 2 more minutes.

2. Add tomatoes to skillet; reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until mixture is thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low.

3. Break each egg into a custard cup. Make an indentation in tomato mixture for each egg, then carefully pour egg into indentation. Cover skillet and cook until eggs are just set, about 5 minutes. Whites should be fully cooked and yolks should remain slightly runny.

4.Serve immediately in warm, shallow bowls, one or two eggs person.