5.3.10 § 5 Comments
I love that food is a subject that can elicit strong emotions. I don’t know where this sudden philosophical kick came from, but lately I’ve been in a contemplative mood. I think it started when Deb over at Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for shakshuka. The dish itself is simple: eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce.
There’s nothing controversial about the recipe at all. When I saw it, I was initially intrigued by the name and after reading the post, I decided I had to try making it for myself. When I went back a few days later to jot down the ingredients (most of which I already had, which is something great about this dish), I got caught up reading the comments people had left since my first visit.
While comments are usually complimentary over at Smitten Kitchen, this time, there were quite a few inflammatory statements in regards to the origins of shakshuka. In the post, Deb said that the dish was Israeli, but many of her readers begged to differ. Comments quickly evolved into an argument about where shakshuka actually came from and what culture could claim ownership of the recipe. Some people even felt the need to give their input about which ingredients should and should not be included. The sheer number of responses was amazing, and it was clear that many of those involved had very strong feelings about the subject. From angry claims that the dish is Libyan in origin to strongly worded chastisements concerning Deb’s mistake, it was clear that when it comes to food, it’s easy to get people riled up. (To date, there are 375 comments on the post.)
Deb calmly took on the task of replying to the readers by saying that this version of shakshuka is Israeli. She certainly replied with more grace than I might have if I were barraged with negative comments. I imagined her almost like a school teacher having to turn the lights off and on to grab everyone’s attention before saying, “Now children…”
Personally, I don’t really care where it came from…it’s delicious and its definitely something I’ll be making again!
So back to my original point (sorry, I’m easily distracted) – I think it’s very interesting that for some people, a discussion about food can incite as much passion as a discussion about politics or religion might elicit from others. Many of us have strong ties to whatever part of our heritage is important, and I think in a growing number of cases, this includes food. If you’ve ever heard someone from the south wax poetic about sweet tea or chicken fried steak, you’ll know what I’m talking about. (I can go on about green chile sauce and enchiladas for quite some time myself.)
Similarly, learning about food has long been an essential part of learning about another culture that continues to grow in popularity. For instance, Mangoes and Curry Leaves is an amazing publication, half cookbook and half travel journal, which takes the reader on a journey through the Asian subcontinent by looking at its culinary traditions. You can even sit down to read it like a normal book, learning just as much about the region’s history as you do about its food.
Now I’m just rambling (I told you I’ve been on a philosophical kick lately), but I know that the shakshuka debate has led me to be a bit more conscious of what I’m eating these last few weeks.
¼ cup olive oil
5 Anaheim chiles or 4 jalpeños, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, crushed then sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
Kosher salt, to taste
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas or bread for serving
Heat oil in 12-inch skillet on medium-high. Add chiles and onions, cook stirring occasionally until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin and paprika and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
Pour contents of tomato can into a medium bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands. Add the tomatoes and liquid to skillet along with ½ cup water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt.
Crack eggs over sauce so that they are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. (I made little indentions in the sauce with a wooden spoon before doing this, just so the eggs had somewhere to go.) Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to cook for too long or your eggs will be overdone.
Remove the lid and baste the whites of the eggs with tomato sauce, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle with parsley and generous amounts of feta. Serve immediately with pita or bread for dipping.