When you’re single in the city, the whole world is your oyster. I know, I know; cheesy cliche alert. I believe there’s an entire television show devoted to the subject. (Carrie Bradshaw, I love you!) But there’s some truth to the cheese and sometimes I like to explore New York solo just to take in all the little nuances of this crazy town without any distractions.
No matter how cutting edge New York can be, however, there are still some things that are taboo here, especially if you’re doing them alone. I was reminded of this last month when I decided to celebrate my birthday by taking the day off from work and doing two things I love doing but never have the time for: watching a movie and going out to eat in a restaurant. Going to the movies alone is pretty great, especially since you’re just sitting there quietly watching something that’s entertaining (hopefully). I can just shut my mind off and most people don’t give me a second look when they see me by myself. Eating by yourself in a restaurant however? Far more scandalous.
I went to a Lebanese restaurant for lunch after the movie and thought it’d be great to have some tasty food without having to carry on a conversation with anyone. Maybe I’d even try some of that mindful eating I’ve read so much about. I walked in, asked for a table for one, and the host did a kind of double take. He looked around the restaurant, confused and helpless, like I’d asked for the impossible. Then he saw a pair of women who came in behind me, turned back to me and said, “Oh, table for three then?” With raised eyebrows, I repeated, “No, table for one” and raised my index finger for emphasis. He smiled sheepishly and gestured to a small table by the window.
Throughout my meal, I kept noticing the host looking over like he was trying to figure out what to make of me. In addition to his prying eyes, the pair of friends sitting next to me awkwardly carried on a conversation while their eyes kept shifting to my side when they saw I was alone. I couldn’t help but wonder, What’s so weird about sitting here eating by myself? Don’t people do this at home all the time? Even in New York, going out to eat alone can be considered strange. Go figure. I sort of laughed to myself, and challenged the status quo even further by turning off my phone, putting away my book, and just sat there eating my lunch. This happened to be a good thing because I got to enjoy a terrific meal and I didn’t have to share. 🙂
Shakshuka. Aside from being incredibly delicious, light, and simple to make, this one-skillet meal can be easily portioned for one or four. It has its origins in Tunisia although it’s popular all over North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Israel during the winter months.
This dish is a stew of tomatoes, parsley, and spices with poached eggs and is usually cooked in a cast-iron skillet and served with bread. Most people eat this for breakfast, but I see no problem serving this up for dinner. I’ve also had different variations of shakshuka, most notably, a “green” version, with spinach, green chard, caramelized onion and leek at Cafe Petisco in the Lower East Side, NY (one word: YUMMO). I’m going with the classic for this round.
Before we get started, let’s look at the nutritional profile for one of the key ingredients.
Eggs have a bad rep due to its high cholesterol and fat count in the yolks, but if eaten in moderation, eggs can be an invaluable part of your diet.
1 large egg has approximately:
- Protein: 6.3g of protein, or 13% DV, mostly found in the whites.
- Vitamins: 15% DV of Riboflavin, 9% DV of Vitamin B12, 7% DV of Pantothenic Acid or Vitamin B5, and 5% DV of Vitamin D and A. Each of these nutrients are purported to have a number of benefits, including wound healing, weight management and metabolism, hair care, and the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Also eggs are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D which is mostly synthesized by exposure to sunlight.
- Minerals: 22% DV of Selenium and 9% of Phosphorus. These minerals help produce antioxidants which helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease, synthesize proteins in the formation of bones and teeth, and helps maintain heartbeat regularity.
- Fat and Cholesterol: Yes, eggs are high in cholesterol (212mg or 71% of DV) and fat (5.3g or 8% of DV) although most of that fat is monounsaturated (MUFA) which actually helps improve blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Organic Free-Range vs. Commercial Farm: There is a consensus that organic eggs from free-range hens are far superior nutritionally to traditional eggs from chickens fed a diet of non-organic wheat and corn. In an article reviewing the health benefits of eggs, Dr. Mercola states that recent testing proves organic eggs contain 1/3 less cholesterol, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, and seven times more beta carotene than conventional eggs. Dr. Mercola also argues that cooking eggs by frying, hard-boiling, or microwaving can actually change the protein structure and cut the potency of the antioxidant properties by half. He recommends eating eggs soft-boiled or poached if you’re going to cook them. Or do like Bruce Lee and eat them raw, which I admit, is too scary to imagine!
Weigh the facts and decide what works best for you. Most of the nutritional value is in the yolks, which includes the cholesterol, so just eating egg whites won’t give you the benefits listed above. I eat eggs almost daily and I usually do one egg whole mixed with one egg white and chop in some spinach or kale for a scramble. You can try this or some variation. The important thing to remember is that you make sure to check your blood cholesterol with your doctor regularly. If you can afford to stock free-range eggs in your fridge (they can be pricey), then go for it!
Now, back to the meal. Set your table for one and get started!
The original recipe comes from Tori Avey and her fantastic blog, The Shiksa in the Kitchen, and she has it scaled for 5-6 servings. I adapted her recipe for a single serving and made a few minor changes. Here are my ingredients:
- 1 large egg
- ½ can of no-salt added diced tomatoes
- ½ cup of spinach
- about a ¼ cup diced yellow onion
- about a ¼ cup of red bell pepper
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- ½ tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp chili powder
- dash of cayenne pepper (add more if you like it spicy)
- dash of sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ tbsp chopped Italian parsley for garnish
- Cast-iron skillet or heavy saute pan
Notes: Tori uses a cast-iron skillet and I think that is definitely the best way to go. Since I wanted to make a single serving, I had to take a pass on my 12-inch skillet and use a smaller saute pan. Note that the heat and cooking times listed below are for the saute pan which heats up far quicker than a cast-iron. Please adjust your settings if you’re using a different pan and keep a close eye on it at all times! Also, note I added spinach which isn’t a traditional ingredient, but I add spinach to pretty much everything so I can sneak in extra nutrients. Feel free to leave it out if you’d like.
1. Heat the olive oil in the pan over low-medium heat and add the onions. Saute for several minutes until they start to soften and change in color.
2. Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Then add the red peppers. Stir everything together and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the peppers begin to soften. (sorry for the blurry picture; I was having major camera issues!)
3. Pour the diced tomatoes into the pan and also add the tomato paste, spices, spinach, and sugar. Mix well and add salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
4. Raise the heat to about medium and allow the sauce to reduce slightly, about 3-4 minutes.
5. Now here comes the fun part. Crack one egg over the middle and then leave it alone to cook in the pan with the sauce. It doesn’t need to perfect. You just want to make sure the egg poaches with the heat.
6. Cover the pan with a lid to allow the sauce to reduce a bit further and the egg to cook. If you prefer a runny egg (and I do), just keep an eye on the pan and remove the lid after about 2-3 minutes or until the whites are cooked through. Leave it another 2 minutes for a hard-cooked yolk.
7. Remove the pan from the heat. Garnish with parsley and a couple cracks of black pepper. Serve.
I wrapped a towel around the handle, placed it on a trivet over a plate, and ate my meal directly from the pan. Besides it was just me, right? 🙂
You can eat this with a side of pita bread or salad, although the bread is nice because you get to soak up all that amazing stew. I had mine as is and it was a filling meal all on it’s own. Whether you’re eating solo or serving this up for four friends coming over for brunch, shakshuka is a tasty, healthy meal for any occasion. Give it a try!
What did you think of this recipe? Would you like to see more like this in the future? I’d love to hear your thoughts and see pictures of your meals. Drop me a line anytime. 🙂