26 june 2015
Summer Night Camp
My family and I used to leave town once a year and pitch our tents during the hot summer months. We were a few uncles, at least six families. We left on Friday afternoon and by the evening our tents were up. A large table was set up by the sea with beer bottles and cans of drink and platters of fresh fruit. That's it, we had officially arrived. I remember the grown-ups would play cards, and we, the children, would sit beside them, full of curiosity and trying to understand the rules of the game.
They weren't so quiet when they were playing; there was always some annoyed uncle who vowed faithfully that he had not cheated, and then the regular ritual, one would shout at the other, the other would try to calm him down, and in the background Aris San sang ESPERA.
My family slept in our big van. My father opened the doors of the van which was used on a daily basis for crates of fruits and vegetables for the family's neighborhood store – now it served as a portable bed in the wild!
I remember the sea of stars above my head, and the full moon that illuminated the tents; the scene was mesmerizing. There was something very special and heart-warming in snuggling up with the family, all of us together in one car looking up at the glittering sky and falling asleep.
The next morning my father, who woke up before everyone else, would already have hot drinks prepared and breakfast. He'd put a huge pan in place, cut up tomatoes, onion and garlic and start frying; by this time my mother would have woken up and carried on preparing her famous shakshuka. Most of those who were still asleep would wake up from the addictive smell of tomatoes and spicy peppers cooking away with the eggs. The hotter it was, the more delicious it was.
From a very early age I started eating spicy food; my taste buds are already resistant to any type of hot spicy food that exists. To wake up to such a shakshuka would keep us alert for the whole day like an energizing pill. After a breakfast like that, the grown-ups would go fishing whilst we, the children, would play on the beach. I confess that ever since that day, I'm traumatized from swimming. I mean I used to swim but then I stopped. I think it all started on the day my cousin decided that I was an inflatable water mattress. For years I accused him of wanting to drown me. He thought it was some kind of game. That's why I preferred the beach to the sea, and so that I wouldn't be bored I found a hobby; I collected shells, lots and lots of shells. I kept guard over them as if they were treasures of Tutankhamun.
A few days ago my cousin came to visit me and reminded me of my mother's divine shakshuka, and now follows the recipe. Enjoy!
A song to cook with: Aris San - Espera
My mother's shakshuka:
8 ripe tomatoes
4 egg yolks
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 hot green pepper
Teaspoon red paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper
A handful of chopped parsley
Chop the onion into very small cubes and place in the pan; add 3 tablespoons of oil and crushed garlic and sauté until the onion becomes translucent. Cut each tomato into 4 pieces and finely dice the hot pepper and add everything to the onion. Cook until the tomatoes soften and turn to sauce. Add all the spices. Add salt and pepper to taste if missing.
Add the eggs to the sauce, and stir them lightly with the help of a fork. Add the egg yolks (do not stir them, keep them whole). Continue cooking on a low heat; cover the pan with a lid and cook for another 8 minutes. Add the parsley just before serving. I like to eat the shakshuka with good bread.
Note: You can add red pepper to the shakshuka and replace the regular eggs with quail eggs.