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Microwave Tricks: Shakshouka

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Marinara plus a pepper makes a good start.

Sometimes during Passover you just can’t take any more matzahnola. Or matzah with jam, or matzah brei. Or cake. Or macaroons. Anything for breakfast that doesn’t involve at least one vegetable (other than yourself, before coffee). Your tolerance for sweet stuff has been exhausted, and as for the leftover gefilte fish and hrein…no. We are not going there. No matter how much my husband insists it’s “perfectly good” (and I notice he hasn’t schlepped the rest of the jar with him to the office!)

Forget all that. There’s a pretty good cure for the Pesach blahs–you need some chile peppers and you need them now. Not in 20 minutes, no major cooking involved. You have a microwave, some cheap microwaveable soup bowls or the like, and you’re not afraid to use ’em for an increasingly popular Israeli brunch dish–shakshouka. Which is basically the Jewish version of huevos rancheros, only without beans or potatoes. Or lard.

Yotam Ottolenghi has made shakshouka popular and photogenic in at least one of his famous cookbooks, probably prettier than what I’ve got here. But it takes longer too, and I’m impatient.

To make shakshouka, you usually need a frying pan, olive oil, some tomatoes, peppers and onions, plus garlic, cumin, chile peppers, maybe a couple of oregano-or-thyme-and/or-cilantro-type herbs–sounds like the makings of salsa, no?–and some fresh eggs to crack into the resulting sauce. The sauce takes some 20-30 minutes to cook down, the eggs another 5-7 to cook more or less sunny-side-up in the middle of the sauce. That’s a lot of time for breakfast. I wanted a shortcut this morning.

Most jarred salsas are not kosher for Passover–it’s the distilled vinegar thing. That’s okay, because yesterday in a fit of domestic planning (uncharacteristic, I swear) I decided to make a batch of microwave marinara from some unsalted canned tomatoes. I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover food processor this year, though, so I decided, after trying to chop up some pretty tough Roma tomatoes (even with the skins off!) that I should just do as the Sicilians do and break them up with my hands as Tony Danza advises. A little chunkier than usual, but just fine. And actually ideal as a base for shakshouka–both its readiness for a mid-morning fridge scrounge and its rusticity made for a good start. A good dollop in a microwaveable soup bowl.

What else do you need? Maybe a bell or Anaheim-type pepper that needs to get used up. Cut it up (I got whimsical, you don’t have to potschky around with flower shapes). Add more onion if you feel like it; I didn’t. Stick it in the microwave for a minute or two to wilt the pepper and possible onion pieces.

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Then crack an egg or two into it, sprinkle on a bit of feta or panela or queso fresco as desired, maybe a pinch or so of chile pepper flakes or z’khug (I’d run out) and/or chopped cilantro as desired.

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Put another soup bowl on top as a lid, and microwave another minute or two until the eggs are cooked to your liking–check and add 30 seconds if you think it’s still got a raw spot somewhere, and/or leave the lid on for a few minutes and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the sauce.

Obviously if you’re having people over for brunch, the standard frying pan method is better and quicker–more eggs and salsa means more time in the microwave, and no one wants to sit around as you microwave individual portions. But if it’s just you, or you and your partner, the microwave method works pretty well. Just add a little time (maybe another minute or so in 30-second increments) for four eggs as opposed to two.

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Hafla! (celebratory remark when there’s something good on the table and you didn’t have to wait an hour for it) Grab some matzah and a cup of hot coffee and b’te’avon (mangia bene/bon appétit/eat nice)!

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