Re-think comfort food by filling your skillet with greens and eggs. PHOTO CREDIT: Kellie Hynes

How shakshuka can give leafy greens a friendlier reputation

I was recently in a meeting where we introduced ourselves by confessing our favorite binge food. The facilitator turned to me first, and I froze. I could think of nothing to say except the truth: leafy greens.

In case you’re wondering, publicly declaring your love of vegetables to a room full of chocolate eaters earns you exactly zero new friends. But if the lady next to me (“Rocky Road”) hadn’t groaned and snatched the microphone, I would have explained this: Cooked greens are comforting. They’re savory and earthy, and overindulging in leafy greens will fill you with vitamins, plant-based protein, and fiber, not regret.

That evening, still raw from my socially awkward experience, I wondered if I could make a greens recipe that even the rich-and-creamy folks would find crave-worthy. I started with kale and spinach because I always have them on hand; substitute collard greens, mustard greens or Swiss chard if they are your favorites.

Slice your greens into thin strips, removing any thick stems. Toss the greens into a colander and give them a lengthy rinse under the faucet. Now listen up, because this is a good tip: don’t shake all of the water off the leaves. The remaining drops will steam your greens in the skillet, which allows you to skip the ubiquitous bacon fat and saute them in just 2 teaspoons of heart-healthy olive oil.

Then, you’re going to use an unexpected and oh-so-healthy ingredient to make your greens taste luxurious.

Shakshuka is an easy, inexpensive and yummy Middle Eastern dish of poached eggs in tomato sauce. The gently cooked eggs taste rich and custardy, and deliver 6 grams of protein each. I tried stealing the same technique and cooking the eggs directly on top of my greens, but the eggs broke apart and scrambled. I needed a healthy way to make the greens a little more soupy. In a nod to traditional shakshuka, I added a single can of diced tomatoes and their juices. This made the greens just wet enough that they could cradle the eggs as they cooked.

I added more elements of traditional shakshuka by throwing in a diced bell pepper and garlic. While chile peppers are preferred by shakshuka purists, you can get the same spicy effect with less effort by using crushed red pepper, or, if you like it hot, zippy Sriracha. And no shakshuka dish would be complete without a generous shake of smoked paprika. Yes, there is a difference between smoked and sweet paprika, the same way there is a difference between dark and white chocolate. Smoked paprika tastes warm and robust, and absolutely makes the dish. The seasoning you won’t find in this recipe, however, is table salt. Skip it, thanks to the flourish of salty feta that is sprinkled at the end.

When serving green shakshuka, you can honor its roots with a side of pita. Gluten-free me prefers shakshuka in a bowl over brown rice, which is healthful and, yes, comforting.

Green Shakshuka

8 ounces kale, chopped and thick stems removed

8 ounces fresh baby spinach

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 (14.5-ounce) can no-sodium-added diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

6 large eggs

2 tablespoons crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse the chopped kale and spinach, leaving a little water on the leaves. Set both aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and bell pepper until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the kale. Cook 5 minutes more, stirring frequently. Stir in the spinach, cooking until it wilts, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, garlic, red pepper flakes and smoked paprika. Reduce the heat to medium.

Use a spoon to make 6 wells in the vegetables, and crack an egg into each of them. Cover the skillet with a lid or baking sheet and cook 4 to 7 minutes, until the whites are cooked through and the yolks reach the desired level of doneness.

Garnish the green shakshuka with feta and cilantro. Serve immediately with brown rice or whole-wheat pita. Serves 6.

Per serving: 156 calories (percent of calories from fat, 40), 11 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 213 milligrams cholesterol, 149 milligrams sodium.

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