Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Israeli Good" Shakshuka with Saffron and Herbs

There's few things I love more than throwing a dinner party...picking out the menu, cocktails, tablescape, music...Oh, how grand. But it can also be rather stressful, especially with my demanding work schedule. That's why I've grown fond of the more casual luncheon.

As Patti LuPone would say,
"Here's to the ladies that lunch
Lounging in their caftans and planning a brunch
On their own behalf."

The more laid back lunch setting is about connecting with friends and not about frantically getting everything ready and perfect before guests arrive. (Often the scenario before a dinner party). In fact, I love handing friends a mimosa and putting them to work in the kitchen before the meal.

This mentality allows even the most ambitious menus featuring homemade quiches, tarts, and cured fish to be thrown together at the last minute without any fuss.

But as much as I love elaborate, multi course meals, nothing seems to be a bigger crowd pleaser than the one pot wonder, Shakshuka

That means less clean up and more fun..."I'll drink to that!"

Shakshuka originated in Tunisia and is essentially eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. This magical dish has grown wildly popular throughout North Africa and the Middle East and is a staple in my Libyan-Israeli household.

There are endless variations to the recipe, and I've tried many. One of my favorites (not surprisingly) is adapted from Ottolenghi's book, Plenty.

Peppers, onions and garlic are sautéed together and then slowly simmered with tomatoes to create an insanely addictive sauce. The depth of flavor is brilliant with the addition of toasted cumin seeds, fresh herbs, saffron and cayenne pepper.

The dish is beautiful served right out of the pot with some crusty bread on the side to soak up every bit of sauce. It's great served as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a midnight snack.

This savory and wholesome dish will truly satisfy your heart and soul with each bite. Shakshuka is not only heart warming and delicious, but also heart healthy. It's loaded with fresh vegetables (garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes) and EVOO, making it a great addition to a Mediterranean style diet. Try it today. You won't be disappointed!

More on Heart Healthy Shakshuka

Eggs? Heart healthy? "What about the cholesterol?" you may ask

Yes, good question...We know that high levels of LDL-C or "bad cholesterol" in your blood can increase the risk of heart disease, so until recently, dietary guidelines published by the American Heart Association (AHA) and other societies recommended limiting dietary cholesterol. That's why many of us grew up learning eggs were bad. But things have changed...

The reality is that dietary cholesterol seems to have a minor effect on blood cholesterol levels and there's insufficient evidence to determine whether lowering dietary cholesterol reduces LDL-C. Consuming "bad" saturated fats, on the other hand, can significantly affect blood cholesterol. For example, diets composed of 5-6% saturated fat (compared to 14-15%) were shown to lower LDL-C by 11-13 mg/dL in 2 studies.

Based on this data, the most recent AHA guidelines removed the recommendation of limiting cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day. Instead, cholesterol should be consumed in moderation within a diet that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (including fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, legumes, nuts), and limits sweets and red meats[1].

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Shakshuka

  • It feels so wrong to say, but choose canned tomatoes over fresh
    • They're picked at the height of tomato season, making them reliable and superior in taste
    • Choose whole canned tomatoes rather than diced, which can taste artificial and unpleasant
  • Canned San Marzano tomatoes are considered the best...use them
    • Plum tomatoes grown in Italy and regarded for their superior flavor and texture
    • Find "DOP" (Denominazione d' Origine Protetta) on the label to ensure it's the real deal. Also should be grown in Italy
  • If you have in season, local tomatoes, try adding 1-2 roughly chopped, ripe tomatoes in with the canned ones
    • I like adding an heirloom tomato for some color and texture
    • Fresh tomatoes have high water content and will increase the cook time
  • Crack each egg in a dish before adding to the sauce to avoid breakage
  • Get your egg whites to set quickly so that the yolks are still runny and delicious
    • After adding the eggs, carefully spoon together some sauce with the egg whites to help them set
  • Serve with crusty bread
  • For a little extra richness, garnish with crumbled feta cheese while still hot
  • The sauce can be made days ahead, which is great to do before a breakfast/brunch
    • When ready to serve, reheat the sauce, add the eggs and cook according to recipe

Shakshuka Ingredients

  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 3/4 cups good olive oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored and cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, cored and cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 (28-ounce) canned San Marzano tomatoes with their juices
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (1/8 teaspoon for mild, 1/4 teaspoon for medium, 1/2 teaspoon for hot)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 large or extra-large eggs, preferably pasture raised
  • Feta cheese, for garnish (optional)

Shakshuka Recipe

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, such as a Le Creuset or seasoned cast iron, dry-roast cumin seeds for 2 minutes over high heat. Stir frequently to avoid burning.

Add the olive oil and onions and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until softened.

Add the bell and jalapeño peppers, garlic, cilantro, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and sugar. Sauté on high heat for about 10 minutes, until peppers and onions are softened and taking on a nice color.

Add the canned tomatoes, cayenne, sweet paprika, saffron, 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Using the back of a large spoon, crush the tomatoes and stir to create a chunky, but homogenous sauce.

Simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, adding small amounts of water if necessary to maintain a consistency of pasta sauce. As the sauce starts to thicken, season with more salt, pepper, and cayenne (if desired) to taste.

Using the back of a spoon, create evenly spaced divots within the sauce, placing an egg in each well. Sprinkle with kosher salt, cover pan, and cook very gently on low heat for 10-12 minutes. The egg whites should be just set and will continue to cook off the heat.

Garnish with parsley, cilantro, and feta cheese (if desired). Serve immediately with crusty bread.

1: Eckel RH et al.; American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014