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October 23, 2011 / beatricebunny

Messing with a Good Thing (Chakcouka)

It’s Saturday, which means that I started my morning at the West Nashville Farmer’s Market.  My husband and I are having another couple over for brunch tomorrow, so my browsing was more directed than usual.  I am making Chachouka – a Northern African dish that I think makes a perfect vegetarian brunch option.  (Plus, it’s super-easy.)

There are a lot of variations on this recipe (and many ways to spell chachouka).  The basics are this: Eggs Poached in a Spicy Ragout.  That’s it. 🙂

I make mine with garlic, onions, paprika, hot sauce, tomatoes, and a mix of different kinds of peppers – bell, sweet, and one spicy.  First, I heat a little olive oil in a pan.  (Side note: the olive oil vs. vegetable oil in this case matters, because the olive oil adds another layer of depth to this dish.) Then I add a little sweet paprika to the oil, stirring until it colors the oil.  Next, I soften the onions and then the garlic.  The peppers follow next.  I am considering adding capers this time around.  I’ve never added them before, but I have been craving salt like mad lately, and I can picture the taste of the capers with everything else. If I add the capers, they will go in with the tomatoes and hot sauce.  I actually got a couple of really hot peppers from Bugtussle Farm, so I’ll do a little taste test after I add the tomatoes and capers before adding the hot sauce.  The pepper may stand on its own.  I usually add salt in small quantities through out the cooking process.  One of the things I learned in various cooking classes is that “season to taste” at the end of a recipe doesn’t mean to add salt to your taste at the end of cooking, it means season as you go along.  “Season” always refers to salt (or in some very modern cookbooks to salt and pepper), everything else is a spice or herb.   I’ll let this simmer, covered for a bit, until everything gets juicy and the flavors get acquainted.  Then, I will use the base of my ladle and make little dents in four quadrants of the simmering veggies (which should be thick).  I’ll break an egg into each indention and let it poach there.  The nice thing about poaching eggs in this manner is that even if your eaters don’t care for runny yolks, when they break the yolks, they can mix them into their portion of the tomato/pepper mixture and the yolk will become part of the broth.  Vegans just skip the eggs in this recipe altogether.  Meat lovers often add chorizo sausage to the rest of the dish.  I’ll divide the dish into four equal portions, sprinkle with feta cheese, and serve on heavy Fiesta-ware plates.

My original chakcouka recipe is from the excellent cookbook Moosewood Cooks at Home.  Moosewood is a restaurant in Ithaca, NY.  I’ve never been to the restaurant, but I own many of their cookbooks, and Moosewood Cooks at Home is the cookbook that I really learned to cook from.  Their cookbooks are pescetarian, with an emphasis on vegetarian dishes.  I cook a lot more meat now, but these older recipes are still a common go-to for me.  This was handy for when I was too poor to afford a lot meat and cooking was enough of a challenge that I often ruined my attempts.

Over the years, I’ve changed this particular recipe often depending on my mood, the time of year, and what is in season.  I’ve added spinach.  I’ve made it without peppers.  I’ve used fire roasted tomatoes and peppers.  I’ve added red wine or red wine vinegar.  It’s one of those lovely basic recipes that once you master, you can do all sorts of things with.  I love those kinds of recipes.

For me, just learning that I could poach eggs in something besides water was a revelation.  I keep thinking that I will try some really crazy combos based on that fact, but so far, I just keep coming back to variations on this simple theme.



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