Saturday, July 9, 2011

All Shook Up!

This morning, after a leisurely market visit which resulted in tandem giant sacks of produce, a lovely bouquet of summer blooms, 3 delightful cheeses, and a slow walk home, brunch was inspired by the lush bounty on display. The market is in full swing, and the sheer visual pleasure makes it worth an early rise.
Shaksuka goodness (Eggs are already on the plates!)
So- after a cuppa with my lovie, I began the relatively long, but oh-so-worth it process of making Shaksuka and biscuits for breakfast. Shaksuka (which means all mixed up) is a North African dish that is essentially a great spicy tomatoey mess with eggs poached in. If you like a fresh, savory, healthy, and hearty start to your day, Shaksuka fills the bill.  Oh yeah, skip the biscuits if you want really healthy.

So- let's go. Put a great big cast iron skillet over med-high heat. Once it's hot, put a tsp of cumin seeds in to toast. Toss them as they brown, to prevent burning. They'll pop a bit, and become deliciously fragrant. Once they've gotten a bit browner, (2 min?) pour in some olive oil and toss in a couple of sliced onions. While they soften over the med-high heat, chop a few green chilis (you decide...) and slice 3-4 bell peppers into ribbons. I used a green, a red, a purple, and a couple of lovely red pimiento peppers. Add them to the onions along with 2 bay leaves, several stems (6?) of thyme (strip the leaves into the pan, and toss the stems in the bin), a small handful of chopped italian parsley, and a small handful of chopped cilantro. Let all this cook a bit. Meanwhile, rough chop several tomatoes. I used 2 large, and a mixed pile of plum and assorted cherry tomatoes. You can use up to six large tomatoes, or if you can't be bothered, open a large can of fire-roasted chopped tomatoes. Stir them into the pepper-onion-spice mix, along with a pinch or two of saffron. If you haven't any saffron, you can substitute a bit of turmeric. Now the mixture can just bubble along for about 20 minutes, and you just stir in some water (1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time- I just pour some in out of the kettle) if the Shaksuka starts to look dry. This is the perfect time to whip up some biscuits (hang on, the biscuit recipe is coming) and call the butler to set the table. Once you've put the biscuits in the oven and set the table, you should have just enough time to poach the eggs. You'll need about 8 minutes for the eggs. Using a large spoon or ladle, create as many wells in the sauce as you have eggs and/or eaters. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible. Break an egg into each well, and pop on a lid to cover the sauce/poaching business. Put the kettle on to boil, so you'll have water for tea or coffee. I like to chop some green onion and cilantro, and feta or other cheese to add at the table. 
Take the biscuits out of the oven and take them to the table. Say, "Breakfast is ready and I mean right now!", adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and bring the skillet to the table. Enjoy the moment while everyone (or the one!) sighs as you remove the lid. The aroma is mouthwatering. You'll be so glad you have the biscuits to soak up every last bit. Yum.
Pepa's biscuits:
My dad was on an eternal quest to create biscuits as good as those he remembered from his childhood. Thank goodness I stood at his side and he patiently taught me how to make them, allowing me to pursue different eternal quests.

Here's how he did it- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl dump 2 cups all purpose flour. Add two tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. salt. Stir together with a fork. Add about 1/3 cup cold shortening or lard. I use earth balance stick shortening, he used lard. Cut in with a pastry cutter. When the shortening is smallish pea-sized, add enough buttermilk, sour milk, plain yogurt, or plain kefir (my favorite) to make a wet dough. Put just enough flour on your doughboard to allow you to pat the dough into a rough rectangle about 1 inch high. Cut out the biscuits with your favorite cutter, and place them gently onto a cast iron skillet, sides touching. This way they'll help each other to rise. Place in the hot oven for about 12-15 minutes. They should be golden brown on top. When they've got about 8 minutes left, you need to get cracking on the eggs!

And this, my darlings, is a proper doughboard.
Thanks, Dad, for teaching me how to make biscuits, and for encouraging me to be an adventurous eater!

Later in the afternoon, if you'd like to completely ruin someone's diet make someone very happy, try this: split, butter, and toast under the broiler the leftover biscuits. Spread with homemade marmalade (the treacly Seville orange kind in that big jar) and serve with tea. Yes, it's merfect. (Thanks, little Jesse, for the merfect word.)