As much as I love cooking for others, I welcome the nights I cook for myself. No schedule, no expectations. The dishes are simple, easy, quick, light and pretty. Cooking just for me is a luxury and an act of self-care.
When cooking for one, consider the egg (or maybe two). They are filling, easy, nutritious, tasty and endlessly adaptable. Lately my go-to dish is shakshuka — North African-style eggs poached in a spicy tomato-pepper sauce. This boldly seasoned, straightforward dish is as much fun to say as it is to make (it's pronounced shuhk-shyoo-kuh), and can be scaled up quickly if a friend pops in at the last minute. It's a homey dish that hardly needs a recipe, so it's perfect for riffing, depending on the flavors you like best.
My version, inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook "Plenty," calls for just one egg nestled in a colorful mix of bell and hot peppers, onions and tomatoes. While the original recipe calls for plum tomatoes, I prefer the tiny cherry tomatoes for their texture, intense color and sweet-tart pops of flavor. The tomatoes and peppers are sautéed a long time until tender and jammy, then the egg is cracked into the vegetables and coddled until lightly poached. Feel free to toss in spinach, kale or collards for color.
It's fun to serve this right in the tiny skillet it's cooked in. Poked with a fork, the bright yellow yolk bursts into a lush, sunny sauce. This one-pan dinner asks little of the cook in terms of prep and cleanup — think of it as a "night off." Just be sure to set the table with a cloth napkin and warm up a hefty hunk of crusty bread to soak up all that deliciousness.
Shakshuka for One
Serves 1 (easily scaled up).
Note: This recipe from Beth Dooley was inspired by one from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty" (Chronicle, 2011). If you don't have za'atar (see below), simply substitute 1 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 teaspoon dried oregano for the za'atar and add 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest.
• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, or more to taste
• 2 tsp. za'atar, or more to taste (see Note)
• 1 small shallot, diced
• 1 clove garlic, smashed
• 1 medium bell pepper, seeded and diced
• 1 small jalapeño, seeded and diced
• 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, cut in half
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 egg
• 2 to 3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Film a small skillet with the oil and set over medium-low heat. Add the cumin, za'atar, shallot, garlic, bell and jalapeño peppers and cook until the shallot is translucent and the peppers have wilted. Add the tomatoes, cover, lower the heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are very tender and the tomatoes are jammy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Make an indentation into the vegetable mixture and crack the egg into the sauce. Cover and cook the egg until it's lightly poached, about 3 to 5 minutes. Garnish with the cilantro. Gently transfer the whole thing to a plate or serve in the skillet with toasted rough bread to sop up the sauce.
About za'atar: The Middle Eastern blend of spices and herbs is available in the spice aisle of many grocery stores and co-ops. You also can make your own by blending 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 2 teaspoons dried oregano and 1 teaspoon coarse salt and store in a covered jar.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.