Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Chakchouka: Vegetable Ragout with Eggs
We both came from solidly carnivorous households where meals were comprised of a protein, a vegetable, and some sort of starch. But, in the years since we've been married, our diets have changed considerably. These days you'd be just as likely to find us mowing down on a plateful of roasted root vegetables, a slice of crusty bread and a glass of wine as you would a medium rare steak with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. And, if it weren't for Peef's obsession with all things bacon, some people would probably suggest that we've moved even closer to the vegetarian side of things in the past few years.
I'm always surprised when someone comments that they find vegetarian food to be "boring" or "flavorless". On the contrary, I've discovered that the more vegetarian food I eat and prepare, the more appreciation I develop for the intricacies of flavor that can be created (*gasp*) without the addition of meat. And this recipe is no exception.
Chakchouka is a Berber word, which means simply "vegetable ragout". The dish, which is also called Ojja in Tunisia, is traditionally made with a combination of paprika, onions, peppers, and tomatoes and seasoned with harissa. It's usually served topped with eggs that have been poached in the juices from the vegetable mixture. However, it can also be served with fried eggs -- or without any eggs at all.
This recipe is a version I developed after visiting Tunisia (read more about my love for North Africa here). It utilizes the traditional harissa paste (which is quite spicy -- so it should be adjusted to your liking) and peppers. However, I've taken the liberty to use fire-roasted tomatoes and smoked paprika -- both items that impart a pleasantly sweet and smoky quality to the dish.
I love making this at the end of our Wisconsin growing season -- when we have plenty of fresh red and green peppers to choose from. It's delicious made with a combination of sweet bell peppers, wax peppers, and poblano peppers. But, any peppers you have on hand will do. It also works wonderfully with previously frozen peppers or fire-roasted peppers, though you'll want to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Spicy. Smoky. And infinitely complex, chakchouka makes an incredibly delicious breakfast, served alongside a crusty loaf of French bread. However, it also makes a delightful light lunch scooped into warm pitas. And, quite frankly, if you're determined to be carnivorous about it, chopped Spanish chorizo makes an excellent addition to the tomato & pepper mixture.
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