Shashuka Photo by Jennifer Madore

Eggs for breakfast, lunch or dinner? Enter shakshuka, a tomato based, pepper, and egg dish that’s as delicious as it is easy and versatile. Bonus no. 1, it’s a one pot meal. Bonus no. 2, you eat it with bread, meaning bread is the utensil — very exciting for me! I reach for this recipe when I can’t, or don’t, want to spend a lot of time making dinner. It’s appealing because I usually have most of the ingredients in the fridge and pantry already, and also because, with its smoky spices and mild heat, it’s a wonderfully comforting dish to eat.

At heart, shakshuka is a simple, spicy tomato sauce in which eggs are gently poached until the whites are just set. The yolks remain runny and enrich the sauce as you eat it. There are lots of variations of this dish by country, region and household. You’ll find hot peppers standing in for the bell pepper and cayenne, whole cumin seed instead of ground, no cheese at all and additions like olives, merguez or chorizo sausage or artichoke hearts. If you look into the origins of shakshuka, prepare to tread lightly lest you find yourself roasting over fires of the proprietary convictions of North Africa, Israel, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries. Suffice to say, the tomatoes came from the New World, and the Old World found a delicious way to put them to use.

Which points down another avenue that shakshuka leads to, which is that cooking and eating food from other cultures and areas of the world cracks a window into new flavor combinations and ways of doing things that challenge me in a good way. Take, for instance, eating with your hands and all that implied in the household I grew up in. “Use your fork!” “Don’t touch your food!” “Were you brought up in a barn?” In my house, you could expect to hear all these phrases if you dared experiment with abandoning your cutlery. Try it anyway. You’re an adult now, give yourself permission. After all, large portions of the world eat with their hands. Still, if you don’t want to go there, don’t sweat it. Wield your fork proudly.

Now, what to cook shakshuka in? Many shakshuka recipes call for cooking in cast iron, but proceed with caution. Technically, you can cook acidic foods in a well-seasoned cast iron for a short time (up to 30 minutes) without iron leaching into your food. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the risk of either eating metallic-tasting food or having to throw your dinner away and start over, or order takeout. An enamel-coated cast iron skillet is fine, as is any other stainless steel frying pan that has the diameter and depth to accommodate the sauce and the number of eggs you’ll be using.

For serving, set the pot and warmed bread on the table, and refill your plate as often as necessary.

Shakshuka

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This recipe is based on those of J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats, and Melissa Clark at New York Times Cooking. You can use either feta or goat cheese, but the resulting dish will be different: The feta offers little pockets of salty goodness, while tangy goat cheese incorporates more and has a creamier texture.

Yield: 4-6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, halved, sliced thinly
1 large red bell pepper, sliced thinly, length-wise
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or more if you like it spicy
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
Large handful chopped cilantro and parsley
3.5 ounces roughly crumbled feta or goat cheese
4 to 6 large eggs
Hot sauce, for serving
Warmed crusty bread or flatbread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice and season with salt and pepper, remembering that the cheese will also add salt to the dish. Simmer for 15 minutes to concentrate and meld the flavors. Stir in the herbs, saving about a tablespoon to garnish, and adjust seasonings. Gently press the crumbled cheese into the sauce.

With a spoon, make 4 to 6 shallow wells in the sauce for the eggs and carefully crack them in. Bake until the egg whites are just set, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle the shashuka with the reserved herbs and serve with the hot sauce and warm, crusty bread. Cheers!

Jennifer Madore Photo by Jennifer Madore

MEET THE COOK: Jennifer Madore, Portland

“I live in a two-person household; my partner and I share the cooking. I lean toward recipes from East/Southeast Asia, Italy and Mexico, but am interested in all types and styles of food. I am a recipe follower until I’m familiar with a dish and then will experiment with it a little. When I cook, I like to clean up as I go. I do love a good one-pot dinner, and/or one that is large enough to last for a few meals. Let’s face it, we need to eat/cook multiple times a day, every day of our lives. Anything that lightens that load, I fully embrace. I tend to avoid complicated recipes that involve a laundry list of ingredients and steps. I like cooking meals that are short on time and long on flavor.

“I spent my early to mid-adulthood working in restaurants, starting as a dishwasher and working my way up in the kitchen. After a few years, I moved to waiting tables, a job description I held for almost 20 years, 15 of them at Fore Street in Portland. There, I learned from some of the best how to respect, handle and cook food. Only recently have I started to feel comfortable cooking in my own kitchen, and still feel some surprise when there are good results. I’d always thought that being a good cook was something only other, more qualified people could be. I’ve learned that if you do a thing enough, with interest and curiosity, the skills develop and off you’ll go!”

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