I've been bad, dear ones. On Thursday night, a slapdash dinner turned suddenly promising. Then, just as suddenly, serious eating ensued. Sighs, groans, the works. It all happened so fast. And I failed you. Not one peep about it did I utter in these pages. Not one pic did I snap. I denied you the tastiest moment of my week, and for that, I am sorry. But wait. Don't go. Please allow me to explain. I am mostly to blame, but not entirely. The dish, you see, involved eggs. With runny yolks, no less. Cold, slimy eggs are just too icky for consumption, and so there was no time at all to dally around with a camera. Plus, we had a very important after dinner date with a Johnnycake down the hall. Our fabulous little neighbor had just whipped up a pan for a school assignment. Cornmeal had been borrowed, molasses had been poured, and it was up to Eli and I to witness the finished product and taste the inaugural slice.
We piled the dishes in the sink and shot out the door. Eli, who has the loveliest little feet (and I do mean little; they're smaller than mine), went barefoot. Oh, and I forgot to mention that just about the time that the ingredients I'd haphazardly thrown together started to sing, Varina showed up with half a bottle of wine. Having already dined, she sat with us as we ate and drank. Then all three of us together headed to the home of the Johnnycake, the little baker, the baker's two adoring sisters, her good cookin', good lookin' parents, one aging, scraggly cat, two rapidly growing kittens, and an even more rapidly diminishing tank of fish. (They're eating each other, we think.) The rest of the evening was a blur of Johnnycakes, jokes about ducks, murderers, and back talking school boys, and a song about a Middle Eastern desert. By the time we padded back down the hallway and through our front door, all we could do was flop down on the sofa. We of course instantly regretted that we had chosen the sofa, and not the bed, as our flopping ground. Why does the late night transfer from sofa to bed always demand so much energy?
But this isn't really much in the way of an apology, is it? How about this. I'll give you the recipe for my most delicious dinner of the week, and you can cook up a taste for yourselves. Will that do the trick? Next time I'll bring pictures, I promise. Go on, now. Into the kitchen. And don't forget to eat it while it's hot.
Shakshuka, Served with Brown Rice and Spinach
Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern dish typically made of eggs poached on a bed of saucy tomatoes. I changed up the flavors a little and added some black beans. What started out as an experiment ended up a smashing success.
1 large yellow onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes
1 T. tomato paste (I didn't have any, so I didn't use it. But I think it would deliciously rev up the tomato-y flavor.)
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
4 large eggs
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more, if you can handle it)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro
1 bunch fresh spinach
1 cup brown rice
Bring the 1 cup of brown rice to a boil in 2 cups water. Turn the flame to low, and allow the rice to simmer gently until all of the water is absorbed (approximately 40 minutes).
Slice the onion into thin rounds and sauté in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the onions are translucent, add the chopped garlic. When the aroma of the garlic rises, stir in the tomato paste. Then, pour the can of tomatoes, juices and all, into the pan. Break up the whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Season with the cayenne pepper and salt. Stir. Allow the tomatoes and onions to simmer insistently; the goal is to reduce some of the liquid in the pan. Give it a stir every now and then. When the sauce thickens (approximately 20 minutes), stir in the drained black beans. Once the beans are heated through, use the back of a wooden spoon to make four round indentations in the bed of simmering vegetables. Crack one egg into each little hole. Cover the pan, and allow the eggs to poach for 3-4 minutes. Don't let the yolks firm up all the way. (Unless, for some reason, you have something against gorgeous yellow yolks seeping deliciously into your rice and tomatoes.)
Meanwhile, heat a few dribbles of olive oil in a second pan and sauté the spinach until it is just a little wilted. It should only take a couple of minutes.
Spoon a little mound of brown rice onto each plate. When the eggs are finished, scoop out each one, together with its tomato-y bed, and place over the rice. Sprinkle with a pinch of cilantro, and drop a few forkfuls of spinach on the side.
Serves 2-4 people, depending on whether you and your guests prefer one egg or two. (What with the beans and rice, one egg happens to be plenty filling.)