Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Chakchouka: Moroccan tomato-poached eggs with (optional) flatbread
This is usually used as a breakfast, but in many respects it is more like a dinner. It’s just that eggs are often seen as a morning thing, and here we’re basically making a spicy tomato sauce and poaching eggs in it.
Some people say this is a good hangover cure, and maybe it would help, but not so much because of what it contains. It may help your hangover if you’re the one making it because it is the only breakfast I know that makes you think and keeps you busy for half an hour, taking your mind off how you feel.
There’s a bit of flatbread-making involved, which takes a while but is not difficult even if you’ve never made bread before. It’s not like a loaf that contains yeast to make it rise: it’s just flour, oil and water, really. If you’re going to do that, it needs to be done (or at least the dough made and ready to cook) first. Alternatively you can use any kind of bread, from ordinary toast or French to naan, all of which will serve the purpose even if they’re not authentic.
If you’re a complete novice at bread-making, have a go in private some time so you can make a few mistakes and it doesn’t matter. But really, it’s childsplay and you’ll get a kick out of it if it’s even half-decent.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO DO THE BREAD, HERE’S HOW. IF NOT, SKIP TO MAIN DISH
INGREDIENTS (FOR THE FLATBREAD)
METHOD (FOR THE FLATBREAD)
Put three good handfuls of flour plus a pinch of table salt into a mixing bowl and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it up so the oil is absorbed and the flour is not powdery. Add a cup of warm water and mix well with something like the handle of a wooden spoon.
COWBOY QUESTION 1
Q. Why use “something like the handle of a wooden spoon”?
A. Because once you add water, until you get the consistency right it’s going to be very sticky. If it is too wet and you use your hands it gets stuck between your fingers and is hard to get off and generally a pain in the artichoke.
When the dough is tamed and spongy but not wet, knead it thoroughly with your hands.
COWBOY QUESTION 2
Q. What does knead mean?
A. It is the process of squeezing, leaning, punching etc. that gets dough ready.
Keep the flour handy and use a little on the dough and your hands if it’s still sticky. When the dough springs back a bit when you press it, it’s ready.
Spread some flour on a flat surface (chopping board, worktop etc.), divide the dough into small handfuls and roll them one at a time in the flour, then dust the rolling pin with flour (again, to prevent sticking) and roll the dough out so it’s about the size of pitta bread but a bit thicker.
Heat a frying or griddle pan without oil so it’s pretty hot, and drop your bread in for five minutes or so. Keep an eye on it and check underneath. When it’s a bit singed on one side, turn it (with just one in a pan you can flip it like a pancake, but easier).
INGREDIENTS – MAIN DISH (for two people)
One medium tin of chopped tomatoes (400 grams)
Green pepper (1)
Garlic (1 clove)
Chilli (one, deseeded, chopped small) or chilli flakes (half a teaspoon)
Eggs (one or two each)
Heat a good, heavy frying pan, big enough to keep the eggs apart while they cook but small enough that the tomato mixture is at least half an inch deep.
Chop the onion quite small and fry gently in a little olive oil until it is translucent.
Add the chopped green pepper and continue gently until that is soft.
Add the chopped or crushed garlic and the chopped chilli or chilli flakes and continue for two minutes.
Pour in the tinned tomatoes, add a little salt and pepper and let it bubble gently for 15 minutes.
Make small wells in the tomato mixture (push in a cup, small bowl, orange etc.) and crack an egg into each. Let them cook there for a few minutes until the whites are set.
Serve on dinner plates with a flatbread each.
I told you it was a bit labour-intensive, but with this process plus some juice, coffee and tea, any hangover should be receding. If you started off with a clear head, good for you.