Chachouka: North African Capsicum Stew with Eggs

Last week I stumbled upon the English cooking series the River Cottage. In particular, upon the season in which the protagonist goes vegetarian for the summer. I immediately felt a great deal of affinity for this. As a former voracious meat-eater (from a country of voracious meat-eaters) and current not-quite-vegetarian but appreciator of the vegetarianism, I couldn’t agree more with his thesis. We eat *way* to much meat as a society. To the extent that it’s damaging: to the environment, to our own bodies, to our already overburdened public health system. Not to the mention that I disagree with the industrialisation of the meat in general: animals treated as nothing more than any other industrial supply in the effort to maximise profit.

 

Rich and hearty vege stew.

Rich and hearty vege stew.

Though it was at first, a daunting challenge, to eliminate about half of my diet, I am grateful that I have. I know where what I buy comes from. From the earth, sun and rain. Not from a petro-chemical plant (watch this if you don’t believe me). I know that it’s treated ethically. And I am satisfied with in that knowledge.

 

This became quite a lot more a political rant than I had intended but I suppose it’s evidence that I feel surprisingly strongly about the subject. The recipe here is from the cookbook I decided to buy on the spur of the moment. It being the first thing I made from the book and easily worthy of mention here based on taste alone.

 

To round out this longer than usual prolog, I discovered yesterday that this was one of my father’s favourites from his days working in the desert in Algeria. So that made me smile too.
The finished article. The yolks should be just a little bit under set.

The finished article. The yolks should be just a little under set.

 

  • 3T olive oil
  • 1t cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 capiscums
  • 1t smoked paprika
  • ½t ground chili
  • a pinch of saffron strands
  • 400g tomatoes
  • 4 eggs
  • salt and black pepper
Notes:
Chili: of course add enough chili to taste. Personally though, I think this works best with just a suggestion of heat
Saffron: is expensive. And also somewhat difficult to get hold of (at least in Helsinki). I actually had some but then (in typical fashion) forgot to add it – and while it’s difficult to say that you don’t need it without trying it, I can say that it was lovely without the saffron.
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C.
  2. Heat the olive oil over a medium-low heat (3/6 for us) in an oven proof pan.
  3. Toast the cumin seeds in the olive oil for a couple of minutes or until they are fragrant.
  4. Add the onions and sweat them until they’re soft but not taken colour (takes about 10 minutes on the soft heat).
  5. Meanwhile deseed the capsicums and slice them into fine battons and mince the garlic.
  6. When the onions have softened, add the garlic and capsicum. Season generously with salt and pepper. And stirring regularly, sweet them down for about 20 minutes or until soft.
  7. Deseed and dice the tomatoes and when the peppers have have softened add the saffron, smoked paprika, chili and tomatoes and stir to mix.
  8. Continue cooking over the gentle heat until the tomatoes have broken down and you have a thick, rich, flavoursome stew. This probably takes about 10-15 minutes.
  9. Taste the stew and correct the seasoning if necessary.
  10. Make 4 small wells in the stew and into those crack the four eggs.
  11. Place the pan into the oven and cook for about 5 minutes or until the eggs have just set but the yokes are still runny. You should watch this pretty carefully as the eggs can turn quickly.
  12. Serve immediately.

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