One of our Short Takes (page 2, print edition) this week is about the trendiness of shakshuka, the Israeli breakfast staple.
Like with all foods that suddenly find themselves in the spotlight, it never starts and finishes with the basic ingredients, in this case eggs and tomatoes. The version that caught our attention was Japanese inspired, with tofu, red miso and kabocha squash.
It was the Middle Eastern variant that started it all, and the chef most likely responsible for the trend is Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born London-based chef who kickstarted the current Middle Eastern food craze.
Readers familiar with Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, including the vegetarian Plenty and the culturally rich Jerusalem, will know that with Ottolenghi, it’s never simple. Whereas another recipe might call for one fresh herb, Ottolenghi calls for three. Whereas another recipe might call for ground spices, Ottolenghi asks you to toast and grind the seeds. Ultimately, though, his alchemy shines through in the final product; and when you eat that first spoonful you understand why it wasn’t enough to include just cilantro, but the thyme and parsley were necessary to. He is the master, when it comes to seasoning, of finely tuned balance.
In its current popularity, shakshuka is typically served as a brunch dish, but it’s an ideal dinner. Served, as it is in Israel, with some bread, it’s got your protein, vegetables and carbs all in one. If you don’t have all of the ingredients to hand (and who does?), it’s okay to substitute dried spices and to leave out the saffron. Just make sure to season to taste along the way. If you’re looking for a stronger kick to the sauce, add 1-2 tsp of harissa paste.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Shakshuka, adapted from The Guardian and Epicurious
½ tsp cumin seeds
3-4 TB light (cooking) olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into half moons
2 large peppers, one red one yellow, cored and cut into think strips
4 tsp dark brown sugar
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme, picked and chopped
2 TB flat leaf parsley, chopped
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tsp saffron strands
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Up to 1 C water
Optional: harissa paste
In a large saucepan, dry roast the cumin on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for 2 minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and 2 TB of coriander, and cook on high heat to get a nice color.
Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Place two sauté pans on medium heat and divide the mixture between them. Break 4 eggs into each pan, pouring into gaps in the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with chunky white bread.