New York City is as tall as its reputation. The streets are teeming by day and brightly lit all night. Things don’t stop; the 24/7 subway system is no exception. It’s grimy, but both the locals and the tap water are far sweeter than I imagined.
Although I can already picture the giddy smile spreading across my face as I look out from the airplane window at the winding Thames come January, I couldn’t imagine a better time or way to be living in this city—on exchange from London with four months to get a taste (quite literally) of the never-ending things on offer. You can follow the adventures via my Instagram. Between starting my new classes, I’ve discovered hidden bookstore gems, goggled at skylines from museum terraces, gotten lost in Central Park, begun a quest for best bagel, made fangirl appearances at my favourite design studios…
…and scoped out the nearest farmers market to maintain my foodie integrity, of course. Union Square Greenmarket is a bustling medley of happy plants, baked goods, and canned things, but all my attention was thoroughly distracted by the overflow of heirloom beauties, colourfully-named variations of which were rightfully present at almost every stall of local farm produce.
Heirloom tomatoes (also known as heritage tomatoes in the UK) are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down and valued for certain characteristics. Open pollination means no frankenstein hybridising—they’ll grow true from seed, which makes them easy for farmers gardeners to share and pass down.
They’re a shout out to genetic diversity in an agricultural age of genetic erosion. They ‘lack’ a mutation that causes supermarket uniformity in colour; the absence of this same mutation causes a decrease in carotenoids and natural sweetness so, quite frankly, heirlooms just taste a whole lot better—and if that doesn’t get you, then the names will. As soon as I saw the “Cherokee Chocolates” and “Black Truffles”, I knew I had to make shakshuka.
Shakshuka (شكشوكة / שקשוקה) has recently become a big deal in the West for a good reason, thanks to chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and his bookshelf blockbuster Jerusalem. The name means ‘a mixture’ in Arabic slang, and indeed there are many regional variations that mix in things like salty cheese, Yemenian zhug, spicy sausage, and the artichoke hearts that Tunisian Jews introduced.
It’s a popular choice for breakfast and brunch because of the eggs and crusty bread, but it’s also famously warming and perfect for wintery meals. I’ve thrown in a prettily striped local aubergine/eggplant to mellow the acid. You obviously don’t have to use heirloom tomatoes with this recipe, but once you experience the zingy finish of a ‘Green Zebra’ or the complex smokiness of a ‘Paul Robeson’, it’ll be difficult to turn back.
Heirloom Shakshuka with Aubergine
- olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 hot chile peppers, deseeded and minced
- 1 small aubergine/eggplant
- 12oz (340g) heirloom tomatoes, chopped roughly
- 1 t cumin powder
- 1 t paprika
- cayenne pepper (to taste)
- dash of honey or muscovado
- salt and pepper
- 2-3 organic eggs
- fresh parsley, chopped
- crusty wholemeal bread or breadcrumbs, to serve
Heat up the oil in a large skillet and cook the onions, garlic, and chile peppers until softened. Add aubergines, tomatoes, and dry spices along with a splash of water to keep things from drying out.
Let this mixture simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes or until it begins to reach more of a thick, saucy consistency, adding more water if needed. During this time, add your sweetener (this will balance out the heat) and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Crack eggs into the mixture and drag your cooking utensil carefully through the whites so that they become more integrated with your sauce. Cover the skillet loosely and cook eggs gently for 5-10 minutes or until the yolks are set to your liking.
Top with fresh parsley, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne before serving warm in the skillet alongside crusty dipping bread or sprinkled with breadcrumbs.