People all over the UK this week gave into panic buying; loading up on staple food supplies and bulk toilet paper etc. as unexpected snowfall and sub zero temperatures reaped havoc. Whilst understandably dangerous for some, and a point of just annoyance without real consequences for others, one journalist acknowledged this dichotomy by pointing out that in her area of London, shop shelves were wiped clean of coriander and mint, but stocked full of basil; what she attributed as the ‘Ottolenghi effect’, a chef whose name alone has elevated the general perception of Middle Eastern cuisine in the UK and US.
It seems as though every cookbook I open these days has their own version of Shakshuka; an originally Tunisian dish that has traveled its way around the world. The dish first became a must-order trend here in London by way of Yotam Ottolenghi and people quite literally flocked from all over to visit his London cafes to try it.
I have fallen into a bit of a cooking rut these days, as result from the weather which is still cold and grey and uninspiring, daily responsibilities, and the additional chatter of no less than fifteen ideas running through my head at any given moment, with little time implement more than one at a time (and even that requires the utmost attention and dedication, fighting off the other fourteen plus that tug at my sleeve shouting at me to do something else with my precious time). Too many thoughts and not enough time seem to be equally if not more paralyzing for me than all the time and no motivation at all. Though perhaps this is a grass is greener situation… I can’t remember the latter experience since having children.
So, I’m giving into the ‘Ottolenghi effect’, and celebrating it for what it is; an opportunity to change up the scenery every so slightly. I’ve read at least half a dozen different versions of this dish in the last few weeks- so I’m adding my own to the noise. My addition of grated carrot, though not “authentic” by any stretch, bulked up the nutrition as well as the sweetness of this dish, making it a bit easier to include more cumin and a pinch more chilli flakes and have it not be met with absolute protest from my children. This dish is also great for finishing off a loaf of nearly-stale bread, perfect for dunking and scooping, and a great way to get kids stuck in too.
*we allot 2 eggs/adult and 1/child
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1/2 – 1 tsp crushed red chilli flakes depending on how much heat you like
2 tins peeled plum tomatoes
2 carrots, peeled and grated
salt and pepper
harissa paste (homemade or shop bought)
pickled and sliced banana peppers
roughly torn coriander
olives of your choice, sliced
bread or pita of your choice to dip
In a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat, add a teaspoon of olive oil, followed by the minced or finely diced garlic. Cook the garlic for two minutes or so, taking care to soften slightly before adding the cumin and chilli flakes. Cook for a further minute to start to combine your flavours (it should be very fragrant now!) then tip in your tomatoes, give a quick stir, and add in the grated carrot. As the sauce begins to cook, break up the chunks of tomato with the end of a wooden spoon, letting the juices run out and incorporate into your sauce. My kids aren’t huge fans of big chunks of cooked tomato, so I do this with a bit of extra care- you could leave it chunkier if you like.
Once your sauce has come to a simmer, reduce the heat slightly, cover with a lid, and let it cook and reduce for 25-30 minutes. Once reduced, add salt and pepper to taste, then crack your eggs in one-by-one, cover with a lid and allow them to poach and cook in the tomato sauce. You’ll know they are done when the whites are fully opaque but the yolks still look runny (roughly 5-8 minutes).
If everyone eating this dish likes feta, it’s nicer to crumble it over the dish and cover with a lid again for 30 seconds to 1 minute so the feta melts slightly, becoming a bit creamier in texture. However if this is not everyone’s thing over the top once served works well too.
Take care in scooping your eggs into individual serving bowls, top as you like (I like the works!) and serve with bread for dipping.