Americans get a lot of things wrong: unnecessary wars in Communist or Taliban-controlled countries, regulating Wall St, healthcare, automobile production, etc. But clearly our worst offense as a nation is what we eat for breakfast. Cereal? WTF is that? Flimsy flakes of popped corn and rice with cold, unappetizing milk. No thanks. We do a pretty good brunch when Eggs Benedict and sausages get involved, but our everyday choices of cereal, toast and oatmeal (BLECH!) are boring, tasteless and leave much to be desired.
But in Israel, they do breakfast right. Humus, humus and a side of humus to go with your cucumber and tomato salad. After spending two weeks in the holy land, I’m all humus, all the time. There’s something really satisfying about eating crunchy fresh vegetables (the tomatoes and cucumber you’re dipping in the humus) first thing in the morning. Israelis love their tomatoes and in mid-February the tomatoes were bright, firm and sweet. I literally couldn’t get enough (asked for seconds of a plate of raw tomatoes and had to eat the whole thing by myself). While delicious raw, tomatoes star front and center in this amazing any-time egg meal. The name is weird…SHAKSHUKA. I think it’s Tunisian?
The concept is simple: throw some tomatoes and peppers in a pan with spices and poach fresh eggs in the sauce. After scouring our great Internet for the perfect recipe, I decided to rely on my trusty Jerusalem cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi (thanks again Kevin!). One thing that struck me as odd was his decision to omit onions. All of the other recipes I read included heaps of onions (I’m looking at you Lebovitz). So, after forgetting to add them in the beginning I added very fine strips late in the simmering process. I think the barely-cooked onions added a wonderful fresh crunchiness.
In Jerusalem, I had a chance to have the ultimate Shakshuka at the most miraculous hidden cafe. Instead, I ignored the menu’s declaration that their Shakshuka was voted one of the “10 best breakfasts in the world” and ordered the beet gnocchi instead. Friends, it did not disappoint. These little jelly-fish-like pink pillows were filled with creamy goat cheese and sage. If you ever find yourself in Jerusalem, you MUST visit Tmol Shilshom. It’s a bit hard to find…down a cobble stone alley, through a few archways and behind a large tree, but it is the most wonderful cavernous space and the walls are all lined with used English books for sale. It seems like a bit of an ex-pat hangout, but I could have spent days there…eating Shakshuka and reading out of print Penguin classics.
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem)
Note: The recipe calls for Pilpelchuma or harissa – both are spicy tomato-based pastes. You can buy harissa in many gourmet food stores, but if you can’t find it, just add a comparable amount of your favorite smoky hot sauce (chipolte or ancho works best) and add a bit more tomato paste, cumin and salt to taste.
You will need:
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons harissa (or a very smoky and flavorful hot sauce)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
4 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 small yellow onion, very finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 28 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 cup full fat greek yogurt
1. In a large non-stick frying pan, heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the harissa, tomato paste, peppers, garlic, cumin and 1/2 the salt. Continuously cook, stirring frequently for 8-10 minutes or until the peppers soften.
2. Remove the tomatoes from the can and discard the juice. In a large bowl, use a fork and knife to cut the whole tomatoes into small pieces and then add to the pan with the pepper mixture and a bit more salt. Turn the flame down to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the onion and continue to simmer for a total of 10-15 minutes. The liquid should start to evaporate and your flavors will develop like crazy.
3. Make little impressions in the sauce to place the eggs. I found that using the edges of the pan worked best. Depending on how wide your burner is, it’s going to be hard to poach the eggs evenly. I turned my pan every two minutes or so but I still got some very runny and some overcooked eggs. The sauce is so delicious that it doesn’t really matter…but perfectly poached eggs are always a nice surprise. The total cook time for the eggs should be about 8 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the flame and serve quickly in bowls with a side of greek yogurt.