Cookin’ in the ‘hood

The pairing of eggs and tomatoes doesn’t begin and end with huevos rancheros, although that dish is certainly a hearty, savory breakfast during the summer months when tomatoes are abundant and in-season. There is also a traditional Chinese pairing of eggs and tomatoes stir-fried together that is served with rice and is beloved in that country as a simple, tangy workingman’s breakfast. And then there’s the traditional English “fry-up,” which augments all the fried, fatty deliciousness of bacon and blood pudding with beans (usually Heinz), eggs, and a tomato, often simply grilled, halved or quartered, until the skin just begins to wilt.
     This egg- and tomato-centric recipe, from Alexia Humphrey of Tower Market and Deli, is for a traditional Middle Eastern dish called shakshuka (or shakshouka, depending on where you’re eating it). Humphrey notes that the inclusion of eggs makes people assume it’s solely a breakfast dish, but notes that it is also a popular evening meal, especially in Israel, where it is a national favorite. Food historians disagree (as food historians often do) on the preparation’s beginnings: Some say it was conceived in the Ottoman Empire, before spreading through the Middle East and Spain; others insist it is of Yemeni origins. Indeed, it is still hugely popular in Yemen, where Humphrey notes it is customarily served with sahwoqa, a spicy sauce paste that Tower Deli often pairs with its pulled lamb.
     Regardless of the true genesis of shakshuka, it’s the kind of recipe that always travels well: quick, easy to prepare, and tasty besides.
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1 small chopped green pepper (optional)
6 eggs
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, roughly diced
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, unpeeled and cut in quarters
(or one 28-ounce can of tomatoes)
Place the tomatoes, garlic, tomato paste, salt, paprika, and vegetable oil in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, over low heat until thick (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally.
Ladle the tomato sauce into a greased 12-inch frying pan. Bring to a simmer, and break the eggs over the tomatoes. Gently break the yolks with a fork, if desired (doing this will affect the aesthetics of the final dish, if you’re worried about such things). If adding parsley, sprinkle it on top. Cover and continue to cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, until the eggs are set. Bring the frying pan directly to the table, place on a trivet, and serve. Sprinkle with a salty cheese if desired.
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