Monday, July 30, 2012

Shakshuka for dinner

A friend and I were talking about food blogs lately. I said I didn't post to this one as often as I might like, because food blogs are so photo-oriented these days, and that's started to mean that they're super professionalized too. What I mean is: unless you have ten high-quality, processed photos documenting every step of the dish, taken either by natural light or with a serious lighting setup, nobody wants to see what you've been cooking. The way I see it, it kind of means the only people who can really make a food blog others would want to read are those who are working towards their cookbook deal and therefore investing serious time and money in it, or people who are already pros.

But that leaves little space for those of us who have day jobs, and who just like to cook and share what we're cooking. And to be honest, not only is that the only kind of blog I could ever hope to put together, but it's the kind of blog I prefer to read. If I want glossiness, I'll buy a food magazine. But I like the inspiration of what real people put on the table, and not necessarily after they've spent half the day "sourcing" the food in various farmer's markets, and the other half composing a plate. Who are these people cooking for? And doesn't the food get cold while it's being photographed?

The fact is, I started this blog to motivate myself to cook at home more often. It's worked. I've cooked a lot of amazing, and new, things in the past few years. But I tend to cook in the evening, and there's just no way to get that food to look good. I'm also in a rush, so I'm unlikely to take a dozen perfect photos of process. Sorry.

Anyway, my friend pointed me a post on The Yellow House on the topic, and encouraged me to keep posting. It's not about the quality of the setup, she said. So I thought, today, as an experiment, I would put up a recipe I worked up from a few inspirations online. I'd never tried shakshuka, the Israeli breakfast dish, before, so I didn't know how it's supposed to taste. But I could tell from every description that it is exactly the kind of thing I like: tomatoey, onioney, spicy, rich, and not particularly rule-bound. That's just the kind of cooking I love. And the experiment? Damn ugly photos.

That's right, I took some process snaps of the recipe, but since only my half-broken old point and shoot was to hand -- the one with the zoom that doesn't work and weird purple lines ruining half the photos -- and it was getting darker and I had to use flash, these are some hideous photos I'm offering you. (Not only were they ugly to begin with, but I processed them to make them even a bit tackier than before!) The end result was ridiculously delicious, but you won't be able to tell from these pictures. You'll just have to trust me, or better yet, cook your own version and taste it yourself.

The urge to try out shakshuka came from reading David Lebowitz's posts about his travels in Israel. Although I lived there for two years, I was so young that I remember little of the food, just the delicious falafel. And if I've had shakshuka before, I have no recollection of it. The way he describes it, it's a hearty dish you have for breakfast with some bread, digging into it with verve, sopping up every last bit.

My main inspiration was Yotam Ottolenghi's version on the Guardian website, which I liked because of the way he fries whole cumin at the beginning and slices the peppers into toothsome strips rather than chopping them fine. (The website also has a video of him making it, so you can see just how easy it is.) So for basic technique I'm indebted to him. But I also read the version on Smitten Kitchen, which I like for its liberal use of feta.

But I know what you are thinking. "Stop listing all of these footnotes, and show me those completely unappetizing pics!"

Sooo.... to make shakshuka for dinner...

I thinly slice some onions, then crush and slice a goodly amount of garlic:

I also slice three bell peppers into thin strips, and get it all ready while the cumin seeds gently fried:

 Some handfuls of fresh cilantro and parsley joined chopped tomatoes:

After the onions and peppers had fried for a while, the tomatoes and herbs joined them:

And with a medley of spices and sugar, melded together into a sloppy, yummy whole:

But the fun is not over -- chopped up hard feta and more parsley are awaiting their turn to serve:

I make little holes in the vegetable stew and break five eggs, one into each hole, letting them poach in the covered pan:

It all gets doctored up with the feta and parsley:

...and served with some leftover bread and a selection of hot sauces:

Just to keep this from being too culturally authentic, I try sprinkling on both Tapatío, brought over from the States, and some piri piri that was hanging out in the kitchen. Both were good!


  • 1 1/2 cups onion slices (about two small onions)
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped small
  • 1 each red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, sliced into 1/4" slices
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • pinch Turkish saffron
  • pinch crushed red pepper
  • pinch sweet paprika
  • pinch hot paprika
  • 1 teaspoon harissa powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup feta, cubed or crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
Cooking Directions
  1. Put a large frying pan on medium heat, and dry roast the cumin seeds until they are fragrant.
  2. Add the olive oil, heat, and throw in the onion and garlic slices. Gently fry them, stirring, until they are translucent.
  3. Put in the bell pepper slices and turn up the heat. Fry for about 10 minutes until they get soft.
  4. Add the chopped tomato, the cilantro, half (1/2 cup) of the chopped parsley, and the sugar. Stir well.
  5. Now comes the fun: add all the other spices, improvising the taste as you go. The list I gave is just a suggestion. You might find yourself inspired to add more or less or different spices.
  6. Cover the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and cook the whole thing for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the tomatoes break down into a sauce.
  7. Using a spoon, make some dips in the mixture, and break an egg into each of them. Cover again, and let the eggs poach to the level of hardness you like.
  8. Take the pan off the heat, throw on the crumbled feta and the rest of the chopped parsley, bring to the table and serve!


Crafty C said...

This is one of my favorite dishes - and yours looks fabulous!

I agree with you on the slick photos on a lot of food blogs. What I really don't like is 3 or 4 photos in a row of the exact same set-up of the finished product only from slightly different angles. It's so silly!

I occasionally post recipes on my blog and the photos look pretty much like yours - but it's ok by me.

Thanks for posting this!

i said...

Thanks, Carol!

I looked at your blog, and I see you also tend to describe technique and possibilities rather than a strict recipe. I'm trying to put down more printable recipes because I think people often like them, but I don't really cook that way. I actually feel more liberated by knowing what I could sub, what spices are options, what I can add, and so on.

Me said...

i see nothing wrong with your pictures.... and that sounds weird and delicious. Could I use mushrooms too?

i said...

I found a number of recipes online with mushrooms, so I think yes! I had given some thought to it myself, as I had mushrooms in the fridge, but decided to leave them out. As it was, it was a bit too much for us, but I finished everything off. This is why I am gaining so much weight.