Shakshuka for the Soul

Two ideas for upgrading the classic egg dish – a hearty version with meat, spinach and chickpeas, and another with lemon and potatoes that is surprisingly refreshing.

Dan Peretz

Take a day off. Not for errands or a trip. Just a single day, in the middle of the week, without any special plans. Stay alone. Get up later than usual, wear anything that’s comfortable, take your coffee out to the balcony and listen to the bustle of the city or the rustling of the countryside, wherever you happen to be. Then go into the living room, sit down in your favorite chair and read a book or listen to music. By mid-morning you’ll start to feel hungry. It’s only natural.

Put your sandals on, go down to the corner grocery and give the seller a friendly greeting. Head for the vegetable aisle, pick up a few things, not too much, just enough for one meal – a couple of tomatoes, a cucumber, an onion, a hot pepper, parsley, lemon, maybe a plum or a pear, and put it in your basket. Now head for the bread section and select a loaf with a firm crust that is still a little warm. Pick up a small container of cream or yogurt and a carton of eggs, and that’s all you need before heading home. Leave the newspaper behind this time.

Place your bags on the counter and a skillet on the stove, take out the vegetables and rinse them, do a little chopping, a little mixing, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and gently crack the eggs. Wait a little bit, then transfer the skillet to the table and place it on a dish towel. Pour some of the yogurt into a glass, tear off a hunk of the bread, flip over the record on the turntable, and sit down to eat.

A skillet like this can change the course of your day, and maybe your life. If you got up in a rotten mood, it will refresh and sweeten your day; if you got up feeling bored, it will brighten your spirit and clear your head. Freedom from one thing doesn’t have to mean work at something else. It’s important to be alone sometimes, to mix a few things together in a skillet, truly take it easy and just sit back and reflect.

Shakshuka with meat, chickpeas and spinach

(1 skillet, 4 servings)

This skillet contains all the major food groups and can make for a very nutritious lunch. Initially, it might seem that all the ingredients don’t really go together, but as soon as you add the spinach and the eggs, it all comes together wonderfully. Try to get some especially fresh, thick pitas to sop up all the goodness with.

Ingredients:

1 large onion

¼ cup olive oil

3 garlic cloves

½ kilo ground beef or lamb

1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas

(frozen is ok)

4-5 cups spinach leaves,

separated and rinsed

juice of ½ lemon

6 organic eggs

sea salt

coarsely ground

black pepper

Peel and slice the onion very thin. Heat oil in a wide, heavy skillet, add onion and fry until golden, while stirring. Chop garlic and add to the skillet. Stir for a minute or two, until there is an aroma of garlic in the air, then add the meat, crumble it with a wooden spoon and stir to mix with the onion. Continue frying until the meat changes color, first to gray and then to a seared brown.

Add the chickpeas and continue stirring. Place the spinach leaves on top, squeeze the lemon juice on top of them, lower the flame and wait a couple of minutes until the spinach leaves soften a bit. Then stir them into the mixture and let them lose their volume. Season with salt and pepper.

Create six depressions in the mixture. Crack the eggs one at a time, as you would do when separating the white from the yolk, and let some of the white drip into the sink. Transfer each egg (yolk plus a little white) to each of the depressions, repeating the process until you’ve used up all the eggs.

Cook the mixture over a low flame for three or four minutes, until the edges of the yolks turn a little brighter in color. Remove the skillet from the stove and bring it to the table, along with pitas and a cup of yogurt.

Lemon and potato shakshuka

(1 skillet, 4 servings)

This shakshuka is very refreshing, with a Mediterranean feel to it that will remind you of Spanish frittata and Tunisian pickled lemons. The egg yolks balance out the tartness of the lemon, and the tomatoes add a summery, earthy sweetness.

Ingredients:

2 medium potatoes

2-3 yellow lemons, organic

or from your own tree

¼ cup olive oil

4 Tamar tomatoes, or 6 ripe

Tamar cherry tomatoes

4 garlic cloves

6 organic eggs

sea salt

coarsely ground

black pepper

First cook the potatoes. You can wrap them in aluminum foil and let them soften in a preheated 250 degree Celsius oven for an hour, or boil them unpeeled in water and then dry them well. Either way, the potatoes should remain pretty firm and not become mushy.

Rinse the lemons well and remove the stems. With a sharp knife, dice them, peels still on, into ½-cm cubes. Remove the seeds but keep the juice. Transfer everything to a skillet and add the olive oil. Season with a little salt and cook over a medium flame, stirring continuously, until the lemon peels soften a little and the juice starts to bubble.

Slice the potatoes into 10 pieces about a centimeter thick and arrange them in the skillet amid the lemon pieces so that their bottoms touch the bottom of the skillet. Slice the tomatoes lengthwise and arrange them in the skillet, cut side down. Slice the garlic cloves and add them as well. Lower the flame, season with a little more salt and pepper and let the juice from the lemons and tomatoes simmer for about 10 minutes, making sure the mixture doesn’t dry out. If needed, add a very small amount of water.

Create six depressions in the mixture. Crack the eggs one at a time, as you would do when separating the white from the yolk, and let some of the white drip into the sink. Transfer each egg (yolk plus a little white) to each of the depressions, repeating the process until you’ve used up all the eggs. Simmer the mixture over a low flame for three or four minutes, until the edges of the yolks turn a little brighter in color. Remove the skillet from the stove, bring to the table along with fresh dark bread to dip in. Enjoy it straight from the skillet.