My friend Joey introduced shakshuka to me one day when we escaped our routine mundane meal of grilled chicken wraps from NYU kosher caf, and instead indulged in a meal at Hummus Place on Macdougal. He wouldn’t let me not order it, depsite my fear of runny eggs, and to this day I am still thankful. Moreover, every year at the breaking of the Yom Kippur fast, my grandmother has a similar tomato and egg dish native to my Syrian Heritage, Beta Frungie, and I never had any urge to try it…that is, until I met shakshuka. Next came my summer Monday cooking classes with Grandma V and she patiently taught me how to make the best eggs and tomato on the east coast. Fact.
Back to the here and now. It’s still finals week, I’m still miserable, and my main source of procrastination is still cooking. Yesterday, in between memorizing pathways of diabetes and ethanol, I took a time out to get my creative juices flowing. I made a version of Grandma V’s shakshuka, and instead of pairing it with fresh Syrian bread (i.e. pita bread), I decided to put it atop creamy polenta. If I fail my final because of the 2 hour break I took to make this dish, I won’t mind at all. It was worthy every last bite…and the leftovers this morning!
For the shakshuka:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 large onion
1/4 green onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped (I used Kumato tomatoes- my favorite.)
1 14 oz. can stewed tomatoes, most of the juice removed
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. all spice
2 shakes paprika
2 shakes white pepper, 2 shakes cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
For the polenta;
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups 2% milk
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tsp. salt
pepper, to taste
Optional: Tabasco or Habanero Sauce
For the shakshuka;
Heat up a medium sized saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add in 2 tbsp. olive oil, then the chopped onion and the peppers. Saute those for about 5 minutes. Then, add in the chopped garlic and stir that for another minute or so. Now, add in the chopped kumato tomatoes along with the can of stewed tomatoes (with most of the juice removed). Mix everything together, mashing up the stewed tomatoes a bit. Now, it’s time to season. Add in the cumin, all spice, paprika, salt, cayenne pepper, and white pepper, stir it well. Then, reduce to low-heat, cover and simmer the shakshuka for about an hour to allow for most of the water to cook out.
After an hour has elapsed and you have the basis for a very yummy shakshuka- it’s finally time to add in the eggs. Raise the heat back to medium and crack the 4 eggs on top of the tomato-based mixture. Mix in the eggs-very carefully!- so you don’t break the yolks. Cover the saucepan, and let them cook for about 6-8 minutes (depending on how you like your yolks).
For the polenta;
*Make this towards the end of the hour when the tomato sauce part of the shakshuka is finishing off.
Bring milk to a boil in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring every so often. When you see bubbles start to form around the edges, slowly add in the ground cornmeal. Add a teaspoon of salt and continue stirring on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture heats up again. Reduce to a low heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, paying attention to the polenta and stirring every other minute or so. If your polenta thickens up too much, no worries just add a bit of water to loosen it. Turn off the heat when done, and add in the Parmesan (before serving). If necessary, season with salt and pepper, to taste.
To finish, place 1/2 of the polenta on a plate, leaving a crater in the middle to place the shakshuka. In the crater, place the shakshuka with 1-2 eggs. Top with some fresh pepper (and some tabasco/habanero sauce if spicy is your thing). Serves 2-3. Enjoy!