Ever since I received Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook for my birthday, Plenty, I’ve been obsessing. I think I could happily make a recipe from it each day until I’d made it through cover to cover. While I am not a vegetarian, I love cooking vegetarian fare and heartily believe it’s possible to develop deeply satisfying flavors without meat. It makes sense then that Ottolenghi’s book resonates for me as it is a “vegetables-only” cookbook (from a chef who is not a vegetarian) with recipes that combine unique flavors and techniques from around the world.
This recipe he calls Shakshuka, named for the man who served it in a tiny restaurant Ottolenghi found in Jaffa. This North African dish is fantastic and the author’s version shows once again his mastery of melding a multitude of flavors and spices such that no one flavor overpowers. That said, I think it’s the saffron that ultimately lends this fried egg dish a bit of an exotic aura.
I halved the recipe, and it serves a 4 or a generous 2. I don’t have more than one large cast iron dish, so was unable to fry up the portions individually as described in the recipe, but it was no problem to do all the eggs in one pan. I also didn’t have fresh tomatoes since they’re no longer in season, so I used a jar of my own canned tomatoes, plus I threw in a handful of cherry tomatoes I’d recently frozen (slightly defrosted in the microwave first). I didn’t have muscovado sugar on hand, so threw in a couple pinches of demerara sugar. Don’t let the list of ingredients deter you. Most don’t take long to prepare and you can start cooking down the onions while you prep the herbs. Serve with fresh hunks of toasted, crusty bread. Combined prepping and cooking time is about 40-45 minutes.
Serves a generous 2.
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
Generous 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch strips
2 tsps muscovado sugar (or 2 pinches of demerara)
1 bay leaf
3-4 sprigs thyme, leaves picked and chopped
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
3 ripe tomatoes roughly chopped (or 1 jar canned organic tomatoes chopped)
1/4 tsp saffron threads
pinch of cayenne peppers
salt and black pepper
up to 1/2 cup water
1. In a large cast iron pan, dry roast the cumin seeds on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, and herbs and continue cooking on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes to get a nice color.
2. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne and some salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. During the cooking keep adding water so that the mix has a pasta sauce consistency. (I didn’t add much water here, but the canned tomatoes were already quite watery.) Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorful. (You can prepare this mix well in advance.)
3. Remove the bay leaf, then divide the pepper mix among four deep frying pans, each large enough to take a generous individual portion. Place them on medium heat to warm up, then make two gaps in the peppers mix in each pan and carefully break an egg into each gap. Sprinkle with salt and cover the pans with lids. Cook on a very (!) gentle heat for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.
Yum! Below a photo from the cookbook showing the individually cooked portions.