Sweet Heat Shakshuka
When food memories rise up from the depths of my brain/belly, the experience is so vivid for me. I can taste the dish *almost* as if I were eating it. I can recall the smells, the sounds, the experience. Who was I with? What was the context? What was my reaction? When a friend recently asked for recommendations in Vancouver, my thoughts and tastes immediately went to Medina Cafe, and my first encounter with shakshuka, or baked eggs. Shakshuka is of North African origin, although now, I see it most on both Moroccan and Israeli menus. It generally is a tomato based sauce spiced with peppers, onions, garlic, and an array of spices, with soft eggs nestled deep in this gorgeous concoction. At Medina Cafe in Vancouver, I had these glorious baked eggs with lamb merguez sausage for the first time. It was my first trip with my now husband, and we realized that we were two peas in a pod (or two eggs in a perfect shakshuka cast-iron skillet)...basically we both planned trips centered around eating. It was like the stars aligned - a table opened up outside as soon as we arrived, and with little time left before our flight home, we devoured baked eggs and much more.
I've had many good (and not so good) versions of shakshuka, but the core of it is finesse with spices. I was thrilled when I realized that Sweet Heat Cilantro was a perfect match for these baked eggs. The hard work blending spices is already done for you! In less than 30 minutes, I threw together the most warming, flavorful, dish, and it was like my husband and I were right back at Medina Cafe, falling in love.
You will not regret making this dish, and it's easy enough to be thrown together on a weeknight. Enjoy!
6 cloves garlic, minced
splash of olive oil
2 lbs preserved dry farm tomatoes OR 2 lbs canned whole peeled tomatoes OR 3 lbs fresh dry farm tomatoes, cut into a chunky dice (fresh will take much longer to cook)
1/2 jar (4 oz) Sweet Heat Cilantro
1 lb ground lamb merguez sausage with no casing*
Zucchini noodles (I used 1 bag of Joyloop foods, but you can make your own from 2 zucchinis! If you don't have a spiralizer, cut into long matchsticks)
a handful of cilantro leaves
a drizzle of yogurt
flatbread for dipping. buy or make your own here.
*if you can't find lamb merguez, season 1 lb of ground lamb with 1/2 tbsp each of cumin, coriander, paprika, ground fennel, and chile flake
Preheat to 325 degrees.
In a deep cast-iron skillet, combine minced garlic with olive oil over low-medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes, until aromatic. Increase heat to high. Add lamb merguez and break apart, stirring frequently for 2 minutes until the outside of the lamb is lightly charred. Combine tomatoes with garlic in skillet, and bring to a boil. Lower immediately to low-medium heat and simmer uncovered. Add Sweet Heat Cilantro after 10 minutes of simmering. Simmer for another 10 minutes over the stove, mashing down chunks of tomatoes with your spatula into a smoother sauce. If you are using canned tomatoes, add Sweet Heat Cilantro after 30 minutes (stirring every 3-5 minutes throughout that time), and simmer for another 10 minutes after adding the spice blend. With fresh tomatoes, you'll probably have to cook at least 50 minutes total. Throw in a big pinch of salt right at the end, and taste to your liking.
Add zucchini noodles into sauce, creating five nests for your eggs to sit in. Spiral the zucchini noodles loosely around a fork, and place into the sauce. (very loosely, these nests don't need to be tight!). Carefully add an egg into each of the five nests. Place into the oven, careful not to shake the pan too much. Cook for 7-11 minutes. Towards 6 minutes, watch your eggs. You want to take the shakshuka out when the whites have just set but the yolks are still runny. Top with a drizzle of yogurt and cilantro leaves.
Dive straight into that cast-iron skillet with nothing but a piece of flatbread in your hand. It's meant to be a little messy.
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2-4 as a main course.