Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whole30 Shakshouka

Began writing this while sitting behind the chilled soups and stocks of the booth I work at the Santa Rosa Veterans' Center farmer's market. Surveying the stands displaying meat from naturally-raised animals and farm-fresh vegetables and fruit of Sonoma County, I can't help but imagine all the potential just waiting to be sautéed, roasted, steamed, broiled, poached, or otherwise teased out of this abundance. Especially today, the first of the Whole 30, the cleanest Paleo guideline the Stone Age Kitchen has ever seen. 

I'm the kind of guy who usually goes to sleep looking forward to breakfast. Often I wake feeling ravenous for some kind of nutrition, but only with raw vegetables available for immediate consumption. Thank Buddha and his belly that some of these veggies will be waiting for me in the morning, staving off hunger long enough so I can get to...

The meat. Bought a mess of Whole 30-approved sausages in preparation for what I soon expect to be an only barely satiable metabolism, burning hot as the skillet that sears and caramelizes our favorite proteins.

As I sit here, tummy grumbling, imagining the tastes and aromas that reward a diligent cook, I listen to my body. As in any productive conversation, the listening and understanding is just as important as (if not more so than) my own self-expression. After all, what could I tell my body that it doesn't already know?

That's what these 30 days boil down to, for me. Maybe for you, too, on some level. An opportunity to clean and renovate this so-called temple, to learn from the forces of nature that determine my form and function. If I can attune myself to the frequencies on which my body communicates, I can better nourish it with what it needs to grow stronger and more vibrant with every meal. Our tastes and creativity, imagination and community determine how these needs are met. But listening to what the body has to say, whether it's a sore muscle or an empty stomach, is the first step.

What my body's been telling me for the last 48 hours or so sounds like this: Shakshouka! Supposedly comes from an Arabic, possibly Berber phrase meaning "mixed up." A combination of easy-to-find ingredients to which you can add or subtract with abandon. But the essential ingredients: tomatoes and eggs.

Specifically, the eggs are usually poached in a zesty, even spicy tomato sauce that can only benefit from time left simmering. Of course, tomato season is drawing to a close, so now is the time to take advantage of this year's especially sweet harvest.

That sweetness, elusive during a Whole 30, is a silver lining of California's drought. Much like the wine country's grapes, the scarcity of water during the growth of the tomatoes concentrated their natural sugars. I learned this from the movie, Bottle Shock: the struggle to survive is what makes the fruit (or veggie) taste so sweet. A beautiful irony.

So find some fresh, local tomatoes, whatever kind is your favorite. You could also use canned tomatoes or purée or paste, but where's the fun in that? I've made this dish with canned stuff before and it turned out fine, could be so much better! That's why anyone would be doing the Whole 30, or why any of us engage in any self-improvement or learning experience, I'd think. An opportunity for daily self-cultivation. 

Along with that you'll need eggs, the best you can find. For my shakshouka, I'll also be using Brussels Sprouts, an onion, and the fresh chorizo from Sonoma County Meat Company. All the zest and savory from cooking the sausage will be lapped up by your veggies and tomatoes when they're added to the mix; this is a simple, one-pan dish. Keep in mind: using the extra veggies like Brussels Sprouts and onions will take up some room in the pan and make it less of a liquid poaching medium than if you were to use tomatoes alone. 

I'd advise you cut/slice/dice your vegetables before any cooking begins, so you're not scattered about the kitchen when a pot or pan or oven needs attention. To get even more nutrition and flavor out of your tomatoes, toss them in some olive oil after slicing them. Adding olive oil to tomatoes before the cooking process aids in the delivery of lycopene to your body, and for this your body will thank you (link to the science about tomatoes, including their interaction with olive oil.)

One thing I learned working in the kitchen of a certain chain burrito restaurant whose name is the same as a chili sauce and rhymes with...well, no real words. Rhymes with Flipotle. The most important lesson: Mise-en-place, French for "everything in its place," means having all your necessary cooking tools and food accessible and ready for cooking before you begin. This might be second-nature to some of you, but it sure wasn't for me! I find that every time I practice this, however, my cooking and cleaning process is much smoother. Donc, si vous êtes prêtes, allons-y!

You'll need:
1 onion, sliced
1 sweet potato, diced (or more, if you're feeling frisky and have a BIG pan and appetite)
1 lb chorizo, crumbled
2 pounds tomato, halved or quartered
1 lb Brussels sprouts, quartered
Coconut oil (won't give you a specific amount because it's just how much you need to keep your pan cooking!
Olive oil (enough to toss those tomatoes)
1-2 Eggs per person eating (depending on their mojo/appetite)
Zesty Spices: 
1 tbsp Oregano
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp red chili flakes (optional-you could use any sort of heat here, or none!)
2-3 bay leaves
1 tsp sea salt (or more, to taste) 

Tip: Out of habit, I deglazed the bottom of the pan with ~1 tbsp balsamic vinegar after adding the Brussels Sprouts. This not only stops food sticking to the pan but also adds liquid to for a quick burst of steam and flavor, speeding the cook of your veggies.

1. Coat the bottom of your large, ideally cast iron pan with coconut oil over medium-high heat. Once it's hot, cook the chorizo first, just til browning (It'll cook through in the stewing process,) and remove it to a plate. No paper towel to sop up the juices, you'll want to get those back in the pan later!

2. Throw down the sweet potatoes and onions to the pan, allowing to brown as well before adding the Brussels Sprouts. Splash in your balsamic vinegar (you want to hear it sizzle) with the Brussels Sprouts and cover the pan for 2-3 minutes.

3. Slide in your tomatoes and cover the pan. After a few minutes, they'll begin melting, almost literally, over the top of the rest of the veggies. Stir the shakshouka mix gently to work in the tomatoes as they continue to break down. Cover for another 5 minutes.

4. Spoon the chorizo back into the pan with as much of its juices as possible. Stir the meat back into the shakshouka gently, sprankling in your spices as you go. Allow to simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to marry (and consummate that marriage, making delicious flavor babies.)Note: Add water to the pan 1/4 cup at a time if your sauce is getting too thick-remember, we're going to poach eggs in this zesty meat and veggie jacuzzi. When you're about 10 minutes from mealtime, ready your shakshouka for the eggs by digging little nests in which they'll soon cook.

5. Plop your eggs into their nests and cover the pan for 5-7 minutes, or long enough to poach them to your liking. The larger your pan and shallower the dish, the quicker it'll cook. Remove the eggs with a large serving spoon, taking care with your eggs. Serve with as much shakshouka you think you can shake. A rich, silky egg yolk could very well await you...

Finally finishing this up the morning after cooking the Shakshouka. I'll tell you now, the yolks last night, the ones in that photo...they were indeed silky. And the leftovers warmed up beautifully. I hope this turns out as well for you. 

PS: Thank you for bearing with my writing. Don't mean to make the cooking seem complicated, I just want to give you as much information as possible about why you're doing what you're doing. For me, knowing why I perform an action a specific way is as important as following process itself. Just a part of the better understanding of food and body for which I strive.

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