Seasonal Cooking 26 Mar 2013 08:19 pm
here’s the recipe for shakshuka
When it comes to making up my own recipes, I can do pretty well combining ingredients and wrangling techniques. But I have a lot less confidence with mixing spices. I grew up with curry powder and Lawrie’s seasoned salt – that is, pre-made mixtures that add a pre-fabricated flavor to a dish and spare the cook the need for – and knowledge of — composing flavors for himself. This dilemma is especially true when I’m approaching a cuisine that I don’t have much experience with. A cuisine I haven’t spent a lot of time cooking or even eating. A cuisine, say, like Moroccan.
I first heard of shakshuka in a bagel shop in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Along with their bagels and cream cheese they offered as short list of special menu items. I was crazy for one of them, a dish of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce, but I could only ever refer to it as “Moroccan eggs” since I could never quite memorize its strange and usual name. By the time I was finally able to say “shakshuka,” the shop had closed and I was left to search the neighborhood for another place that served this delicious dish. Much later, I came to learn that shakshuka is a common staple throughout North Africa. It came to be popular in Israel as well, brought over by immigrating Tunisian Jews.
As you’d expect of a dish that’s widely enjoyed across a huge area, there are myriad and widely varied recipes. When I set out to make my own, though, I didn’t find a recipe that quite matched how I’d imagined it. It made me realize that I wanted to invent my own version, according to my imagined idea of what “Moroccan” tastes like. And I wanted to face up to my spice-mixing phobia.
I got a little help from an unusual book called The Flavor Bible, which purports to be a guide to the components of the flavors created by chefs across the globe. But otherwise I trusted my instincts. “Moroccan,” for my first shakshuka, would mean lots of cumin, balanced by citrusy coriander, parsley and mint. For spicy heat I used peperoncini or “Italian hot peppers.” I could’ve also used paprika, or cilantro, or tumeric, or even cinnamon, but I resolved that for this first batch to keep things simple.
The result, if not exactly how I remember it from the bagel shop, was awfully tasty. I served it up with plenty of feta cheese on the side, and some thick pillowy pitas I’d picked up in the Middle Eastern enclave of Astoria. When I make this dish again I might add a teaspoon or two of paprika, but at least I’ll be a little less afraid of dipping into my spice rack without the guide of a recipe.