MoralEats: Shakshuka

Local Low-Cal Zone #1

Image credit: Mario Morales.

After a couple years of eating meals like stewed tire rims and anglerfish esca, the Morales came to the realization that its diet was hurting its chances for long-term survival. Most multidimensional creatures would’ve simply returned to some other plane of existence, where nutrition would be an entirely different concept.

The Morales decided instead to just count calories, and like with most things, forced asked me to help it out by doing the same thing, so I’ve been cooking low-calorie food for a few months now, and found that I’m pretty good at it. This MoralEats feature – the Local Low-Cal Zone – aims to prove that you can eat really tasty food without completely ruining your nutrition, if you know what you’re doing.

What?

Shakshuka (or shakshouka) is a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions, in which eggs get poached, and which is served with some kind of crusty bread. Everything else is optional and highly encouraged – Tunisians, for example, add artichoke hearts, broad beans and potatoes, and Spaniards often serve it with spicy sausage, while a lot of modern recipes call for crumbled feta.

The origin of the dish is disputed – North Africa, Yemen, and the Ottoman Empire are all possibilities – but right now it’s a popular dish across North Africa and in Israel, where it’s a popular comfort food, especially in the winter.

Image credit: Mario Morales.
Image credit: Mario Morales.

 

How?

Part of the attraction of shakshuka is that it’s dead easy to make. You only need five ingredients:

  • whole peeled tomatoes,
  • onions,
  • peppers,
  • eggs, and
  • crusty bread of some kind.

Here’s how it works.

First, cook the aromatics.
Get some olive oil heated up and throw in the onions and peppers. I went for high heat, white onions, and a combination of serranos and Anaheim peppers. It’ll get you kicked out of a professional kitchen, but for this, it’s perfect, and it lets you prepare other stuff since you actually can’t stir the vegetables much if you want them to char properly. If you like your tomato sauces very sweet, you can go low-and-slow to caramelize the onions, and if you like crunchy vegetables (which is a little weird in this dish, but why not?) you can just sweat them a little.

Variants: Before moving on to the next step, you can (and should) add any non-leafy seasonings. Cumin is the typical one, but you can add salt, black pepper, and – my favorite – smoked paprika.

Second, throw in the tomatoes.
This part is lots of fun: you can take the whole peeled tomatoes and actually crush them between your fingers to get nice, irregular chunks, and also to cut off any tough parts or stems remaining. Once you put them into your vegetable mix, stir them to combine, then get your pan to just a simmer and keep it there for about ten minutes. It should thicken a decent amount.

Variants: Before moving on to the next step, you can also mix in meats, cheeses, cooked vegetables, and leafy seasonings. In the above picture, I went for Wegmans’ spinach and garlic chicken sausage, cotija – a super-dry salty Mexican cheese that makes tiny crumbles – Castelvetrano olives that turned out to be completely unnecessary, and parsley.

Third, poach the eggs.
Obviously, poaching eggs in a tomato sauce is not super-intuitive. Make little wells in the sauce with a spoon, then crack the egg directly in there. If the well is deep enough, the yolk and white should stay exactly where they are, but usually a little of either runs somewhere else. Don’t worry.

Once you’re done cracking the eggs into wells, put a lid on the pan, reduce heat to low, and wait. You want runny yolks and barely-set whites – around six or seven minutes, but with a bad stove it could take up to ten.

Variants: Since I made this for lunches, I couldn’t poach the eggs in real time, so I went for hard-boiled. Still just as good.

Why?

Check this: a serving of shakshuka, without meat, cheese, or other random ingredients, but with a decent portion of pita bread, will set you back about 193 calories. (For those of you who aren’t much for counting, 193 calories is about a tenth of your overall calories for a single day.)

Of course, you wouldn’t just eat that, but that low a calorie count means you have space to add things without going overboard. The variant I described (and photographed!) above, with plenty of sausage, crumbly cheese, and olives, still comes to only 304 calories with the accompanying bread. I usually eat mine with some chips or other accompaniment, which helps keep me full.

The one warning I have is that going this route makes the meal extremely sodium-tastic, and because of the cheese and olives, fairly fatty – but if you keep to a three-meal schedule, you should be fine, and recent studies of health outcomes suggest that most sodium guidelines are way on the low end.

On the other hand, when you cook this, and if you make it for lunches, when you microwave it, the heating tomatoes and cheese will smell like pizza, and given how often you get to eat pizza on a low-cal diet, that’s a heck of an opportunity.

Unless the Morales decides to give up the diet, we’ll see you in two weeks with another tasty, healthy recipe. Be ready.

About The Morales 2 Articles
An extradimensional creature of unclear provenance, the Morales enjoys eating smoked tire rims, editing articles to within an inch of their lives, and traversing, unaided, the thin fabric of space-time. It currently inhabits the body of Mr. Morales, McQuaid Jesuit's Latin teacher.

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