Eggs poached in a boldly flavored tomato sauce and served with pita bread is a meal that many cultures have made their own - a tribute to the dish's indispensable combination of taste, nourishment, ease and affordability. You may know it as Eggs in Purgatory, but I call it shakshuka, thanks to an Israeli friend who introduced me to the dish years ago.
Beyond the tomato base and the eggs that cook in it, the dish is a blank canvas for all kinds of variations. In the accompanying recipe, for example, there are no peppers but there is a generous dose of aromatic garlic, but you could add or substitute onions, shallots or leeks. It is seasoned further, as per my friend's recipe, with an earthy Middle Eastern mix of spices: cumin, coriander, paprika and a little crushed red pepper flakes.
I add them with a lighter hand than she does so the dish is deeply flavorful but not intensely so. But you can add more or less as you please, or go an entirely different direction, skipping these spices and adding dried herbs such as oregano, basil and thyme. You also can incorporate whatever additional vegetable you want, or happen to have on hand: Sliced bell peppers, baby spinach leaves, broccoli, asparagus or zucchini all work well.
Here, it's Swiss chard, which I adore and think is a bit of a sleeper in the vegetable world, deserving of more attention than it gets. It is almost like two vegetables in one with stems that provide a celery-like texture and leaves that are akin to spinach.
The chard's leaves and stem are separated and chopped, then the stems are cooked with the spices and garlic, and the leaves are added later, just before the eggs go in. Dollops of soft goat cheese are scattered in (you could go with feta or mozzarella instead) to melt as the eggs cook to runny-yolk perfection. Fresh parsley finishes the dish.
Eat this shakshuka for breakfast, lunch or a light dinner, and enjoy it knowing there are dozens, if not hundreds, of possible variations on it, and that many more healthful, satisfying, inexpensive and easy meals in your future.
In this version of the eggs-in-spicy-tomato-sauce dish that's so popular in Middle Eastern and North African countries, Swiss chard leaves and stems add extra color, texture and nutrition, while dollops of soft goat cheese melt into the mix.
SHAKSHUKA WITH SWISS CHARD
• 1 medium bunch Swiss chard (about 8 ounces)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped or thinly sliced
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
• Two 14.5-ounce cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes with their juices
• 4 large eggs
• 2 ounces soft goat cheese (chevre)
• 1/4 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Separate the leaves from the stems of the Swiss chard. Cut the stems into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then chop the leaves, keeping the stems and leaves separate.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chard stems and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, salt and crushed red pepper flakes; cook for 30 seconds, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, then stir in the diced tomatoes and their juices. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chard leaves; cover and cook until they have just wilted.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Use a large spoon to form a well 3 inches across in the sauce in one quadrant of the skillet; crack one of the eggs into a small bowl and pour it into the well. Repeat with remaining 3 eggs.
Dollop the cheese around the eggs. Cover and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the whites of the eggs are set but the yolks are still runny.
Garnish with the parsley leaves. Serve hot, with warm pita bread.