All has already been written about the famous Israeli breakfast of a large chopped Arabic salad, eggs, labneh, feta and other cheeses, Greek style yogurt and bread: that it’s fresh and healthy, that it’s Middle Eastern, that it’s just too much.
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Everything was said, except the truth, and the truth is that Israelis have this exact meal for dinner, not breakfast.
Many Israelis still have heavy, hot meals at lunch. Kids come back from school early and have their schnitzel and mashed potatoes. Dinner is light and includes the dishes listed above.
Summer, when light cooking or no cooking at all are a plus, is the best time to try and follow this diet. Tomatoes and cucumbers are at their peak this time of year and yield the best chopped salad. To the regular chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions add grated radishes, chopped peppers and fresh mint and finish with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Offer good bread to absorb all the goodness accumulating at the bottom of the salad bowl. You can also add a simple salad of squashed avocado with chopped egg, green onions and olives to spread on bread.
Finish this Israeli-inspired dinner with a fresh watermelon. You’ll leave the table full but not heavy. You might even sleep better!
There’s one staple that requires cooking, but still fits summer dinners (or brunches) really well, and that is shakshuka. Shakshuka is a Northern African dish of cooked eggs in tomato and red pepper or paprika stew, usually with the addition of hot pepper. It was brought to Israel by the Tunisian Jewish immigrants and is popular both in Israeli homes and restaurants. The most common version is made of cooked tomatoes, crushed garlic and paprika. Some recipes include sliced chorizos, some call for feta cheese, and there’s also a green version of Swiss chard or spinach stew with eggs cooked in it is gaining popularity as well.
Shakshuka made with canned tomatoes can be quite good, but there’s really nothing like one made of fresh summer tomatoes. The dish has such few ingredients- it relies on the tomatoes alone, and those must be of the best flavor. Try mixing different heirloom tomatoes- but any good, red, ripe tomatoes will work well.
With slices of ciabatta or sourdough bread, this is a whole vegetarian meal on its own. I just wish I could say it was cheap, since no meat is saved. Unfortunately, if you’re living in America, tomatoes, even in the summer, can be as expensive as meat, or even more expensive- something I still cannot understand. But you’ll be comforted to know you’re following the MyPlate recommendations of the USDA, and serving your family real goodness in a skillet.
Below are two versions for shakshuka, one is a classic tomato-paprika base with roasted eggplant, the other is a summer version of Swiss chard and fresh corn.
Tomato, eggplant and paprika shakshuka
My version for shakshuka includes roasted eggplant on top of the tomatoes. You can choose to make the recipe without the eggplant (but why would you?), and just skip the instructions for roasting it.
1 large or 2 baby eggplants
4 lb. fresh tomatoes, ripe (you can mix different heirloom tomatoes)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, seeded and sliced
2 tablespoons paprika
6 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt to taste
Bread, for serving
1. You have two options for roasting the eggplant. You can wrap it in aluminum foil and put on an open flame of medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, rotating the eggplant occasionally until it is soft and does not resist when you press on it. Or you can roast it in a 450 degrees oven (no need to wrap in foil) for about 40 minutes, rotating a few times. Let the eggplant cool for a few minutes, remove the skin, set the flesh in a colander until ready to use. If the eggplant contains many seeds, remove most of them.
2. Cut the tomatoes in eight, keeping all juices. Put oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot add jalapeño, cook for 10 seconds, then add tomatoes all at once, let cook for 8 minutes, only shaking the pan, to get some of the tomatoes burnt a little at the bottom (nothing smells better than a slightly burnt tomato). Add paprika and garlic and mix. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the stew has thickened, 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally.
3. Cut the eggplant and add to tomatoes. Add salt to taste.
4. Gently break the eggs into the tomato stew and continue to cook to your preferred doneness. You can cover the pan while cooking to eggs to cook them faster.
5. Divide between 6 plates. Serve with good bread to absorb and finish the tomatoes to last drop.
Corn and Swiss chard shakshuka
I used fresh corn, but frozen corn can work too.
Try this shakshuka with other greens, such as spinach, arugula or kale, Or better yet, with a mixture of them all.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, seeded and sliced (optional)
1 lb. green parts only of Swiss chard (see headnote), sliced to thin strips
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 corn ears, kernels only (or 14 oz. frozen corn, thawed)
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt to taste
¼ cup cilantro leaves
½ cup grated Mexican queso fresco, Bulgarian feta or any mild flavored cheese
1. Put olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When oil is hot add jalapeño (if using), cook for 10 seconds and add Swiss chard. Sauté, stirring as needed until Swiss chard has reduced in volume, about 3 minutes. Add garlic cloves, corn kernels and turmeric and mix. Add two tablespoons hot water, cover the pan, lower heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Add heavy cream, mix and remove from heat. Using a stick hand blender or a food processor, puree only half of the Swiss chard-corn stew. Mix with the rest of the stew and add salt to taste.
3. Put pan back on medium heat, break eggs into the stew and cook to your preferred doneness. You may cover the pan with lid to cook the eggs faster.
4. Divide between 6 bowls, top with chopped cilantro and grated cheese and serve.