Worth Sharing

I’m not a huge food photo sharer on Facebook. The truth is, there are more photos of my cat on Facebook then there are of meals I’ve enjoyed. (Yes, I’m one of those people that can never get enough photos of cats or people’s children on the Internet. Share a photo of one of those two things, or better yet, together, and you’ll get a “like” from me.)

Tonight I posted a photo of dinner to Facebook with the caption “CSA Shakshuka!” I received a few thumbs up, but also a question as to what shakshuka is. Well, let me tell you about shakshuka.

The first time I’d ever heard of shakshuka was when I lived in Israel. Aleza Eve told me about the dish, a sauce made of peppers and tomatoes with eggs poached on top, and directed me to a spot in the shuk that had the best in town. After classes one afternoon, I found the shop with the famed shakshuka, but found myself drawn to the eggplant salads in the case. (I get very distracted when it comes to eggplant saladschatzeelim, as they say in Israel.) I ate my eggplant in the shade on Mt. Scopus by the Israel Museum, convincing myself I’d get the shakshuka the next time. Well, it turns out there wasn’t a next time, and the only shakshuka I’ve had has been stateside.

I’ve found shakshuka is a great use of the August CSA box which is always full of green peppers and tomatoes. Some people add onions to theirs. I think aleppo would also be nice, maybe a smidge of harissa. I found one hot pepper to be enough for me, but I know others would add at least two more. (And no, this dish is not in the least bit reflux friendly, albeit extremely delicious.) It’s also one of those chameleon dishes that can be served for breakfast, brunch, dinner or anything in between.

Shakshuka

Ingredients

2 green peppers, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 small hot pepper, chopped into ¼ -inch pieces

5 cloves garlic, slivered

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, or one box Pomi (Let’s be real: I rarely cook with my fresh tomatoes. Heck, I barely share mine with Rich.)

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Two or three hearty pinches of salt

3 eggs

Directions

In a medium skillet, sauté the peppers, garlic, spices and salt in the olive oil. Cook until they soften, about six minutes. Add the tomato. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. The sauce should thicken. With the back of a spoon, make three dents in the sauce. Pour the eggs into each of the spots. Cover pan with lid for about four minutes. Some people like yolks that ooze. Others like stiff yolks, which means you should cook the eggs for closer to seven minutes. It’s really up to you.

Serve in low-rimmed bowls with hunks of crusty bread or pita.

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It’s What We Do

kosher vegetarian

It must be an August thing, because I’ve been dreaming about eggplant again. A thick purple gem of an aubergine came a few weeks back in my CSA, and I had been tossing around ideas of what I wanted to do with it for days. I knew I wanted it to be a dip perfect for pita — tomatoey, soft with a bit of a shimmer, not too smoky. I also knew I wanted to use the green pepper that came in the same box. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly how I was to execute my vision. I knew that Aleza was coming to town, so I assured the eggplant that its fate would be a lovely one, if it could just hang on a few more days.

In preparation for our visit, we chatted a bit online about my vision, bouncing around flavors from Israel, Persia and Armenia — places that do magical things with eggplant. On a Tuesday morning, Aleza and I hunkered down with slices of leftover blueberry pie in her parents’ kitchen. (Yes, I took a vacation day to cook this eggplant. And I think all mornings should start with slices of leftover blueberry pie.) While digging around the refrigerator, her dad came downstairs and asked us if we needed any help. “Oh no,” we assured him, “we’re all set.” We were just checking to make sure there wasn’t a vegetable we had overlooked who would want to join the eggplant. We ended up taking two smaller eggplants Aleza had picked up at the farmer’s market in Provincetown, to supplement my own.

Although it had been literally a dozen years since Aleza and I cooked and studied together in Israel, it felt just so right to have planned an entire visit around cooking a meal. “It’s what we do,” Aleza summed up to her father.

Eggplant a la Aleza Eve

Ingredients

2 lbs. of eggplant (one very large one will do)

Enough oil to cover a pan

1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 half white onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

14 oz. can crushed tomato

Salt to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

We began the eggplant preparation by placing them one at a time directly on top of a burner on the stove for about 10 minutes, turning them about every two minutes so that the entire eggplant would come into contact with the flame. This blistered its skin and started to soften its flesh. Then we tossed it into a very hot preheated oven and roasted it while we prepared the rest of the dish.

As we discussed relationships, politics, writing, religion, music and tattoos, I chopped the onion while Aleza chopped up the green pepper and garlic. We went with whole cumin seeds, which we added to a pan of hot oil, and watched until they jumped and popped. Then we added the onions and a pinch of salt, which we cooked for about 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every two minutes or so. Next we added the Aleppo pepper, green pepper and garlic, and cooked that altogether for about 15 more minutes.

(I had to run to the grocery store at this point to pick up black beans for a little protein for the corn salad we had decided to serve with the eggplant, so I didn’t actually witness this next part, but will recreate as best I can.)

A good 40 minutes had passed since we’d added the eggplant to the oven, and Aleza could see it was ready by the way it had completely softened and collapsed in on itself. She knew it was really ready by the way the flesh was easily scraped from its skin with a fork, which she then added to the onion-cumin-pepper mixture on the stove. Then she added about half of a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes. She was a little worried that she’d added too much, but it was just what I’d had in mind.

We cooked the dish for another 10 minutes or so, making sure all the flavors melded into each other. As we turned off the stove, Aleza drizzled a little red wine vinegar onto the eggplant, to perk it up. After toasting some pita (which I also purchased on my trip to the grocery store) we enjoyed my eggplant vision in its full glory, drizzling olive oil onto the servings on our plate.