I’ve been a bit gutsy lately. You see, I’ve been reading from a fantastic cookbook (more on this another time) and while I read it I get all these ideas and get inspired and MUST find out MORE about them and TRY them IMMEDIATELY because I am a very impatient person.
On one such occasion, I came across an interesting sauce recipe in said cookbook, and this spurred the thought: “man, I wish I knew more sauces.” Seconds later I was googling recommendations for fundamental sauces cooks ought to have in their arsenal, and within a matter of minutes I found myself perusing information about the five French mother sauces: bechamel, veloute, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato.
“PERFECT! I’ll start today,” I vividly remember saying to myself out loud, grinning over my computer and cookbook at my coffee table.
My first week of French saucery studies was largely focused on bechamel. I made one almost every single night for a week, trying to nail the consistency and the flavor.
(I had a great time doing this but in retrospect do not recommend it if you are attempting to get in shape for summer. Let’s just say I have data that indicates a suspicious link between the time I started working on bechamel and a…diversion from my fitness goals.)
I made a batch of tomato sauce in this first week too, very excited about the prospect of a customizable, easy to use, familiar sauce. For my first foray into the tomatoey goodness, I used Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for a tomato sauce, but omitted the garlic (in accordance with a passionate commenter’s recommendation). After more than an hour of simmering I completed it with a few chunks of unsalted butter, to round off some of the acidity. A trip through the blender, and my glorious sauce was done. And wow, was there a lot.
I first made some vegetarian chili with it (delicious). But there was still a ton of this stuff left over. I returned to the original site where I had discovered the magic of the French mother sauces, where I recalled there had been a list of ways to USE each of them.
It was there that I found a recipe for something totally new to me and extraordinarily fun to say: shakshuka. I, ever curious, investigated the history of this dish and found that there are variations of it in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. The idea seems to be largely the same: poached egg in a tomato-based sauce + carbohydrate. Varying amounts of sweetness and spiciness are added, according to culture and personal preference. I was sold. I had to try it!
I carefully followed the instructions in the recipe, somewhat shocked with how easy it was.While prepping the main tomato and poached egg bit, in a separate heavy-bottomed pot I boiled some bulgur in salted water to use as my carbohydrate.
Full disclosure: I totally overcooked the eggs my first time out. But oh lord, was it delicious. I followed the “optional” (totally not optional, in my opinion) recommendation to add in some cayenne pepper, and loved it. It was filling, soul-warming, and the bulgur was a really solid textural compliment.
I have since made it roughly once a week for breakfast (and sometimes lunch!), and have enjoyed it with both bread and bulgur. I’d love to do naan, rice, or couscous with it just to experiment.
The dish is extremely cheap, delicious, and quick to prepare. Under 15 minutes, and 1 pan. Seriously.
If you’re in the mood for something healthy, something that feels a little indulgent, and will put an old favorite (tomato sauce) to use in a new and interesting way, give shakshuka a try. I’m hooked. Well, until I find some other outlet for my tomato sauce love affair.