This recipe is foolproof. The evening I made it, I was behaving like a fool, and it still came out great. That day, I picked up a new pair of glasses, which was an exciting event since they are my first new pair in nine years. When I retrieved them from the optometrist’s office, I relegated my contacts to a clean, white case in order to test out the glasses, and wore the glasses home. This was my first foolish decision as the new prescription left me initially disoriented, which probably did not bode well for my driving. I drove home nervously, hauled my things up to my apartment, and couldn’t find the contacts case. After a quick and unsuccessful peruse of my car, I became a little panicky. When the new prescription left me feeling nauseous, my heart rate picked up. After a more thorough but equally unsuccessful search of my car and a call to the optometrist’s office to see if I had abandoned them, I started to sweat. Just when I was in a complete state of panic, I found my contacts tucked neatly into my new glasses class, which left me feeling stupid, but relieved.
I then began to focus my nervous energy on dinner. I had some feta cheese I wanted to use, so I turned to Tastespotting for inspiration. While browsing the website, I was amazed to find every recipe had feta cheese in it. I thought the stars were aligning in my favor, but then I realized that I had actually searched for feta cheese, and forgotten that detail. Sigh. Luckily, amidst all of this, I remembered something called shakshuka, which I have been meaning to make for some time (I pronounce this as “shack-shooka,” but I probably wrong). It is an Israeli dish where eggs are poached in a spicy tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese. Eggs in tomato sauce may sound strange, but it is common in Italian cooking and, of course, in shakshuka. At an old restaurant job, one of the chefs used to make it for the staff. Also, a friend recently e-mailed me a shakshuka recipe and Bon Appétit published a version in the December issue. I’m not sure how all of this information was accessible in my brain when I was incapable of retaining other more recent and relevant details, but I went ahead and made shakshuka anyway.
The tomato sauce had a good, strong kick from fresh jalapenos (which I partially seeded), and bold smokiness from a healthy dose of cumin and paprika. I first sautéed onions and jalapenos in olive oil and added the spices to toast them before adding the tomatoes. The spices mixed the onions looked like sludge and smelled like heaven. Then that mass of concentrated flavor was simmered with tomatoes and some chickpeas. After bubbling and mingling together, eggs were gently poached in the sauce until the whites were cooked, but the yolks remained runny and luscious. Personally, I air on the side of a slightly overcooked yolk to prevent the dilemma of snotty egg whites. The bottoms of the yolk were cooked hard, but there was still plenty of velvety yolk (and none of that snot that I hate). I finished it with fresh parsley and lots of salty feta, and ate it with a spoon to effectively scrape the bottom of the bowl. It made for a spicy, satisfying, and inexpensive weeknight meal.
¼ cup olive oil
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped (I removed about ½ of the stems/seeds)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I used about a cup)
Kosher salt, to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2-3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving (optional)
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
Put tomatoes and their liquid into a medium bowl and crush with your hands. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with ½ cup water and chickpeas, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with kosher salt.
Crack eggs into a small bowl one at a time, and add them gently to the sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 7 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.