Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dr Shakshuka

I've been thinking of how to distill the insights I've acquired over these past few years of trying to teach my sons how to cook.

You know, some kind of essential truth, like: "Keep it simple, stupid."

Or, "The secret ingredient is love." (Although Marge Simpson was closer to the truth with, "The secret ingredient is salt." The secret ingredient IS salt.)

But after much consideration I've decided that the best single aphorism I can pass onto my children, the best piece of advice I can give them as far as making food is this:

"Put an egg on it."

It always works. Put an egg on top of anything, it makes it better.

Enter Shakshuka. Shakshuka, what a lovely name. I could say it all day. I could make it all day. And I could definitely eat it all day.

I found the recipe in a pretty little recipe booklet than came with my Sunday paper one week, years ago when I was living in the UK. The British Sunday papers were competing vigorously for sales, and so included all kinds of prizes with your purchase. I still have a gorgeous black and white photo print of John Lennon that came with one edition, and a DVD of Jane Campion's The Piano that came with another.

But best of all I have this:

It's an amazing tiny treasure-trove of innovative vegetarian dishes excerpted from the cookbook Plenty by the brilliant, brilliant Ottolenghi. Go buy it right now. You're welcome.

I lost this treasure for a while, and found it during my recent move. You never know what you're going to unearth when you are packing books.

Now that it is back in my hands, I plan to cook my way through it. Kind of like Julie and Julia, but with 15 recipes.

I started last weekend with Shakshuka. I was sick for the millionth time this year, and wanted to eat something restorative and spicy. I reached for Ottolenghi, and read this: "In an alley in old Jaffa is a little restaurant with shared tables outside. It's heaving at lunchtime and everybody, more or less, eats the same thing. The place is called Dr. Shakshuka, after its signature dish, a North African specialty." A tomato, pepper, and onion stew, spiced with cayenne, saffron, bay leaves and thyme. Topped with eggs.

Dr. Shakshuka. That's what I needed.

I followed the recipe very closely, and it doesn't seem right to publish it here, so follow this link to The Guardian website for a video and the recipe. If you don't have any saffron in the house, you need to get some. You might need to sell something to raise the money to buy the saffron, but do it. It's worth it.

I'm just wild about saffron.
The dish was rich and satisfying, and it didn't cure my cold but it did make me feel much better.

Thanks, Dr. Shakshuka.

Put an egg on it.