I purposefully stopped eating hummus 9 days before leaving for Israel so that I would be able to indulge without feeling the effects of an overdose. Yes, even I can overdose on hummus. The theme of this trip, though, turned out to be shakshuka. What’s that, you ask? The best way I can think to describe it is as eggs poached in a thick, spiced (and slightly spicy) tomato sauce. But that really doesn’t do it justice.
Here – a picture is worth a thousand words…
The young girl who piled grated parmesan onto her pasta to mask the taste of even a teaspoon of tomato sauce (if she let that sauce even touch her dish) would hardly recognise the one sitting here writing that one of her new favourite dishes is entirely tomato-based! I am living proof that taste buds evolve. And thank goodness for that, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the delights of blue cheese, olives, or … shakshuka!
I have been playing around with a couple of different recipes for shakshuka since September, mostly relying on the many variations by Yotam Ottolenghi. Last week, however, in googling shakshuka recipes for what must have been the hundredth time, I came across David Lebovitz’s blog on the subject. Already a frequenter of his ‘sweet life in Paris’ site for all things desert related, his description of the lingering nature of the seasoning in this remarkable dish rung true for me. I decided to give his attempt at recreating the flavours we had both fallen in love with a try.
I invited MC over for dinner and told her we were going to make my new favourite food. She’d never tried it, let along heard of it. No pressure.
The spices that make shakshuka so delicious are common in the Middle East and North Africa, but only recently becoming known to me. I must admit that as I putzed around in the kitchen, chopping, sautéing, and smelling spices, it was not immediately clear to me that this was going to recreate the dish I was so craving. But as the sauce simmered and eggs cooked, the scent wafting from the pan brought me back to a hot afternoon sitting in Bacci Café mopping up thickly simmered tomatoes married together by a soft, persistent web of spices.
It brought me back even further to a warm evening last August, in HaMarakia in Jerusalem, when I took my first bite from a still steaming pain, too hot to touch, slightly confused by the presence of a fork in my hand instead of a spoon (because it had been described to me as a soup). Mmmm. Shakshuka.
Shakshuka it the perfect one pot meal. It should be served with warm, crusty bread. Trust me, you’ll want it to help you wipe your bowl/pan clean. Tonight I also decided to make tahina, a sauce made from tahini, lemon, garlic, and water, to dip the bread in. And thanks to MC, I discovered that the tahina and shakshuka go really well together.
You can find David Lebovitz’s inspired recipe here.
Tahina (tahini sauce)
from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
150g light tahini paste
120 ml water
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp salt
The fat and solids of the tahini tend to separate, so before starting make sure you’ve mixed the tahini well in its tub.
Put the paste into a medium mixing bowl and add the water, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Stir with a small whisk (or fork) until you get a thick sauce, the consistency of clear honey or just a bit runnier. I actually, sometimes keep it a bit on the thicker side. If you want it runnier, add a couple extra drops of water. Don’t be alarmed if it seems to separate at first, all the ingredients will come together.
This makes approximately 350ml of sauce, which will keep in the fridge for about 1 week. Before using from the fridge, stir again to loosen it up and add a little liquid if necessary.