Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that 2014 brings everyone much joy, lots of laughter, and a few adventures.
After a fantastic holiday season that’s been full of family, friends, food, and drink, my husband and I decided to kick off 2014 by embarking on the 21-Day Primal Challenge, beginning today. For those that aren’t familiar, the Primal Challenge is based on Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, a lifestyle framework that includes a diet comprised of whole, unprocessed foods – like produce, meat, fish and nuts – the stuff most of us would eat more frequently in a perfect world. In addition to diet, the challenge addresses several other factors that play important roles in health, such as exercise, sleep, sunshine, and play. In accordance with the challenge, here’s a short list of the things we will and won’t be eating over the next three weeks:
– What’s in – vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat, fish, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, dairy (in moderation)
– What’s out – sugar & sweets, grains (including baked goods, pasta, rice, cereal, crackers and the rest), processed vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn) and legumes
If you’re interested, you’ll find more details on the challenge here.
In all honesty, this isn’t far off the way my husband and I already cook and eat at home, but I have to raise my hand and admit to indulging in far too many chocolates, cookies, and a multitude of other tempting treats over the last few weeks. It was fun (and tasty) while it lasted, but I’m feeling a need to break out of that pattern and hit the “reset” button now that the new year is here, and I think committing to a challenge like this is just what we need to keep us honest. I’m looking forward to the next three weeks, and curious to see what, if any, changes we observe in ourselves – physically or otherwise – as a result. I’ll be posting about our experience, and of course, our meals. It’s also been a good excuse to do some menu-planning and recipe-scouting – among my favorite activities. I’ve already started compiling a roster of “primal” dishes, and I’m feeling inspired about the next few weeks.
We kicked off the challenge this morning (well, actually this afternoon) with shakshuka – our very own breakfast of champions and a perfect choice to spark our recovery from a New Year’s Day hangover. Shakshuka is a North African creation that nestles eggs inside a hearty and slightly sweet mixture of tomatoes, peppers, and onions, with warm earthy flavors coming from cumin seeds, thyme, and bay leaves. And it’s not just for breakfast – we usually turn to this go-to recipe for dinner at our house. While there are many different versions of this dish, I’m devoted to the one found in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, and I’ve adjusted the recipe to serve two below.
¼ tsp cumin seeds
1/3 cup light olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow), sliced into ¾ inch strips
1 tsp brown sugar (see note)
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped cilantro, plus more to garnish
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
¼ tsp saffron threads
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
up to ½ cup water
4-6 eggs (depending on your appetites)
Note: I’ve cut the sugar down from the original recipe, but I didn’t remove it altogether because it helps the vegetables brown. It only amounts to a ½ tsp (about 2 grams) of sugar per person, but you can always omit it if you prefer.
- In a very large pan (make sure to choose one that has a lid – you’ll need it later), toast the cumin seeds on a high heat for about 2 minutes.
- Add the oil and onions and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add the peppers, sugar, parsley, cilantro, thyme, and bay leaf, and continue cooking on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, allowing it to color a bit.
- Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and some salt and pepper, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan, and add water as needed so that the mixture retains the consistency of pasta sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Remove the bay leaf.
- Make gaps in the tomato-pepper mixture (one gap per egg), and crack an egg into each gap. Sprinkle with salt, cover the pan with a lid and cook over a very gentle heat for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. (Note: you can also divide the tomato-pepper mixture into two smaller pans and finish each serving in its own individual pan. Make sure the smaller pans have fitted lids if that’s the case.) Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.