Restaurants have probably never had such a wonderful advertising medium as Instagram. Not only can you put your dishes out for all to see (for free!) but your customers are taking word of mouth buzz to a whole new level by snapping pics and sharing them with their friends and, potentially, tomorrow’s new customers.
Instagram also gives you the opportunity to look at what your competitors are up to and what hot dishes are getting the most buzz. Sometimes, though, the dish you see leaves you just a tad befuddled. What exactly is it you’re seeing? It looks like eggs floating in some kind of sauce. Some sauces are red, some are green. It looks tantalizingly appetizing, but what is it?
In this case, the mystery dish flooding Instagram is shakshuka - an Israeli dish of baked tomatoes, onions and peppers topped with eggs and flavored with earthy cumin. Popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it’s been introduced here by American chefs who have been scouring the globe for inspiration and adding their own twists to the traditional dish.
Originally a family-style dish with four to six eggs, served for lunch or dinner, shakshuka was mainly found in two versions: the red made with tomatoes and the green resulting from chili paste. This green sauce can be hot or mild and is similar to the green sauce you might find at falafel or shawarma stands. For American diners, the dish has shrunk to only one or two eggs baked on top, but the flavors and options have exploded.
For the green shakshuka, the green chili paste has given way to fresh and bright salsa verdes. For a little heat add some jalapeños or add some tang to the dish with some fresh pickled veg. You can even it all out with a dollop of sour cream or some fresh crumbled goat cheese. This is the kind of dish that is perfect for lunchtime patio dining.
Another route would be to go with spinach; wilt and swirl it around the pan with a little spicy harissa then coddle the eggs between the vibrant red and green colors. Before serving, add a few slices of creamy avocado and you suddenly have a dish that perfectly combines some of today’s trendiest ingredients.
The red shakshuka is fast becoming a player on the dinner menu. The rich tomatoes and peppers are now sharing space with sausage, say a chorizo or merguez, or fragrantly roasted meats - even fish and shellfish are making appearances here.
All manner of hard and soft cheese can be incorporated into the dish as well. You could give it a Spanish flair with a little manchego or a hint of the subcontinent with a little Indian paneer - a cheese that holds up well under the high heat of the broiler when you’re finishing off the eggs.
For a vegetarian bent, or even for just a little more substance, beans are making their way into the dish. Kidney or navy beans would work well, and can add extra protein for those who are vegetarian.
Eggs. Sauce. Meat. Cheeses. All these elements are great, but for me the dish is still incomplete. I’m going to slice into one of those eggs, watch the luscious yolk ooze out and scan the table for some crusty bread to start sopping up all that goodness. Don’t disappoint, serve up that dish with a couple of slices. It’ll help bring it all together.
While the name of the dish may not indicate what it contains, it is definitely Instagrammable. Starkly white and recognizable eggs placed on reds and greens contrasted with a little cheese or fresh herbs and served up in the dish it was baked in. Even if it weren’t delicious it would still be visually stunning with trendy, buzzworthy ingredients and photographed and shared repeatedly (hopefully with your restaurant name visibly tagged). Fortunately, it is delicious as well.