Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chakchouka: Vegetable Ragout with Eggs

We're not vegetarians, but (as you've probably already noticed) we're big fans of vegetable-based fare.  Part of the reason is that we simply love veggies of all kinds.  But, we also love the challenge of coming up with recipes for whatever is freshest and best at the farmer's market.

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.

RECIPE: Chackchouka

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  1. how interesting! i've made the same dish but using mostly tomatoes and it's called shakshuka. Guess it's just different spelling like a zillion different ways to spell Channukah ;)

    A great quick dinner idea!

  2. Mmm, now you're talking! But then, I am a vegetarian (well, pescetarian) who also happens to be infatuated with eggs. The North African seasonings are high on my list too -- really, this is a perfect dish in my book!

  3. Oh my goodness, this looks amazing! I have an abundance of market fresh veggies sitting around the house and am looking for new, creative ways to use them beyond salad and stir fry. This looks like the answer! Also, I've been looking for a new way to make eggs. I'm a huge fan of veggie scrambles. I'll be sure to let you know when I try the recipe!

  4. I completely agree... even when I make something completely vegan + gluten free, I am SO happy to find it so flavorful and satisfying... :D

    and THIS looks FABULOUS... I can SEE the flavah !

  5. Smoke and heat, sounds like my kind of meal! Really enjoyed the post and wonderful display.

  6. I totally agree. I grew up totally carnivorous and have become more and more vegetarian as time progresses. I think the flavors that veggies bring out are so lovely. Case in point this awesome dish. Love the smoky flavors of it. And doesn't everything taste so awesome with an egg on top?

  7. Prior to Paul, I was in an eight-year relationship to someone who was a vegetarian. The love affair ended badly (as most do, otherwise they wouldn't end, right?), but man, could he cook. And he taught me SO much about food. People who think vegetarian food is boring are, dare I say, ignorant.

    As you know, meat lends a lot of flavor to dishes from the fat. Vegetables don't have this advantage, so vegetarian cooks learn to be really creative with spices, and sauces, etc.

    The ex stuck around long after he was physically gone, since I continued eating sans meat for several more years. But, like Peef, bacon is an extreme weakness for me and drew me back over to the dark side.

    I eat everything again. But vegetarian food is still one of my favorites. And this Chakchouka? I would eat every last bite!

  8. OK, would you believe me if I told you I was eating this for lunch, RIGHT NOW? That's right. We have some Jewish friends in NYC and the husband is Israeli. This is "his dish" although they spell it "shakshuka". We had it this weekend (he made it for us) and we loved it so much we made it for lunch today! Now I must admit that I was scanning my emails right before lunch and saw this post in there. But still it was bound to be on the menu this week anyway! :) I agree, it is an incredible dish!

  9. Looks like I need to make "eggs for dinner" this week... Mmmmmmm.

  10. There's actually a difference between Tunisian Chakchouka and ojja. Ojja is garlic, potatoes, caraway, peppers, tomatoes and eggs (a bit of harissa or red pepper to taste). Chakchouka or shakshuka is a traditional North African dish that traveled to Israel with the Jewish immigrants. It's been fun to watch it change as it moves across time and space!

    1. Alanna - Thanks for the clarification. When I was in Tunisia, I ate a dish very similar to this that they called Ojja... I wonder if there are variations among cooks?


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