Sunday, April 5, 2015

Eggs Everywhere: Shakshuka and the Paashaas

Well, here we are on another Easter Sunday, having survived the annual All-American marketing campaign loaded with images of rabbits and eggs—two things that don’t really seem to go together at all when you think about it.  Yes, there are occasionally baby chicks involved, but just point me toward a parent who has credibly explained to an inquisitive youngster exactly how the rabbit/egg thing works.  I was pretty much a big failure when faced with such questions—be it Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, whatever—because for every “reason” I could muster, there would be an inevitable follow-up question from a very smart five-year-old.  Best to change the subject, maybe, with something like “Look! The Popemobile!”

Dyeing (not dying—spelling counts) boiled eggs with pastel colors and other crafty stuff is another relatively inexplicable activity that may have its origins in the U.S.   As noted in the previous post (Kale Frittata recipe), Michel’s recollections of the Dutch Easter holidays of his youth do not include any form of egg-dyeing, just a lot of boiling with mixed results.  Of course, ornamental eggs have been part of other cultures for centuries—witness the elaborately carved/painted eggs from the Czech Republic or the opulently imaginative Fabergé eggs of the czars.

After a little Googling, I learned that we have an enterprising New Jersey drug store owner to thank for our vinegar-y tradition of dyeing hard-boiled eggs with tinted tablets.  Mr. William Townley came up with the idea in the late 1800s and named the product PAAS after his Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors’ word for Easter, Passen. 

I never realized until I got to know Michel many years ago that “paas” is actually the Dutch word for Easter, similar to the word Passover.  It all makes sense, doesn’t it?  I also never knew that “haas” is the Dutch word for hare.  So the Easter Bunny in Holland is called the paashaas.  Easy to remember.  Easter traditions for children in Holland now include hunting for chocolate eggs—maybe something you would like to consider for next year as you contemplate what to do with all those leftover, discolored hard-boiled eggs staring at you every time you open the refrigerator.  Let’s admit that egg salad is nice once in a while, but it loses its charm after a day or two.

Now for those extra eggs that you didn't boil.  

Here’s a delicious vegetarian option for any time of day.  Michel has recreated a hearty dish that has Middle Eastern origins: Shakshuka (rhymes with bazooka).  Popular in Morocco, Tunisia, and Israel, it’s essentially eggs baked on top of a spicy tomato mixture. 

Heat oven to 400 degrees. 

You will need:

6 eggs

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (crimini will do)

½ an onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper cut into strips

1 jalapeño, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

3 okra pods, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds

1½ teaspoons ground coriander
1½ teaspoons pimenton
1 teaspoon ground sumac

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon dried salted capers, chopped

In a large, deep skillet:

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushroom slices, stirring to prevent sticking.  Cook until the mushrooms begin to brown. Add chopped jalapeño and garlic. Cook for one minute more.

Reduce heat, stir mixture, and add another tablespoon of olive oil if needed.
Add onion slices, okra, red pepper, and chopped capers. Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes until onion and pepper are soft. 

When onion has softened, sprinkle with salt then add the remaining spices. 

Stir to mix. Add diced tomatoes, stir again, then top the mixture with feta.

Carefully situate six eggs on top.  Place skillet in the oven.  

Bake until egg “whites have set and yolks have heated through”—about 15 minutes.