“Hey, mom, I can’t breathe out of one of my nostrils. Maybe because I got elbowed in the face?”
This is how my son casually informed me that he had been walking this Earth with a broken nose for two entire days. And no, I didn’t notice his black eyes and crooked schnoz, but in my defense, NEITHER DID HE. Because, apparently, when you are a sporty 14-year-old male, getting popped in the nose is just like any old Monday. We visited the pediatrician (who mocked me) and the ENT (who shamed me), and then I had to make dinner. Because, apparently, when you are a worried, embarrassed mom, you still have to make supper just like any old Wednesday.
Crummy Wednesdays are why shakshuka exists. Shakshuka is a hearty, nourishing dish that works for breakfast, lunch and especially as a soothing evening meal. In its most basic form, shakshuka is eggs poached in warm tomato sauce. Fancy shakshuka is still eggs poached in warm tomato sauce, but you’ve added extra vegetables and a crumble of one or more fresh cheeses. There’s only one other essential ingredient, which I’ll cover two paragraphs down. The takeaway here is that shakshuka is what you can whip up when your pantry, and mental wherewithal, are at the bare minimum.
Let’s start with the tomatoes. You can hand-squoosh canned whole tomatoes like edible stress balls, which is why they are my top choice. I also throw in crushed tomatoes, which add body to the sauce, and a little tomato paste, which acts as a thickener. If you’re a sodium-watcher, use a couple of cans of no-salt-added diced tomatoes. You can even use roasted Roma tomatoes, if that’s what you have on hand.
Because we need more vegetables in our meals, I like to add sauteed onions, bell peppers and spinach to my tomato sauce. This is just a light suggestion; use your own picks to meet the five-a-day rule. Mushrooms, yellow squash, zucchini, jalapeno, even pickled red onions all work deliciously.
The only truly non-negotiable ingredient (besides eggs and tomatoes) is smoked paprika. Listen up, this is important. Do not use regular or “sweet” paprika. You need the smokiness to soften the acidic edge of the tomatoes and add depth to the dish.
Once your tomato sauce comes to a boil, use a large spoon to make little divots in the sauce and crack the eggs straight into those nests. Let the eggs bubble until they reach your desired level of doneness. If I’m feeling impatient and hungry, I cover the skillet with a lid to speed the process along. Now, some folks are skeeved out by the mouthfeel of eggs. If you’re one of them, beat your eggs in a mixing bowl first, then pour them into the hot tomato sauce and stir well. The eggs will fully incorporate into the tomatoes, turning the whole dish a lovely shade of sunset orange. You’ll get all of the eggy protein benefits, with none of the texture issues.
Shakshuka is traditionally served with pita bread or crusty baguettes. For my friends with gluten issues, I suggest enjoying your shakshuka over a baked sweet potato or plain white rice. But if you find yourself eating it with a spoon while standing over the stove, well, apparently, that’s just shakshuka working its comfort food magic, any old day of the week.