Shakshouka all in the mix
Breakfast is an incredibly personal thing. I have never met two people who like to eat their breakfast the same way, unless it’s Weet-Bix.
More than any other meal in the restaurant, it is the one where diners will stipulate how they want something done: everything from egg-white-only omelettes to vegan French toast. And I think because it is the first meal of the day, people want it to be right.
It’s incredible now how the breakfast component of the restaurant industry has become an important part of the market. People are going out for breakfast more. They want to use restaurants more, to make them more personal spaces. Breakfast is the beginning of that.
It’s nice to step outside the comfort zone with breakfast. Travel is good for that. I used to eat pan-fried dumplings on the street for breakfast when I lived in Shanghai. In France, it can be a fresh croissant and a saucer of coffee. In India, sweet chai and cinnamon toast. In Japan, a piece of grilled fish with steamed rice and miso soup and pickles.
With shakshouka, there is no real rule. In Arabic slang it simply means mixture. Historically, it is usually tomatoes with chilli peppers, onion and cumin. Variations include chickpeas, broad beans or potatoes. Generally the dish is finished by cooking the eggs with the sauce in the pan, which gives it a rustic charm and more or less makes it a shakshouka. It is usually eaten for breakfast but is also popular as an evening meal. The sauce can be cooked prior and then heated up in the morning with only the eggs to be dropped in. Drop the eggs into a little divot in the warm sauce, cover with a lid, and place in the oven. If left uncovered, the eggs can end up with a nasty skin.
In this recipe we finish it with a sharp cheese, but a sharp natural yoghurt is a good substitute. I also like to add some fresh parsley and dust with a dukkah spice mix. It is great served with warmed Turkish bread or a good grainy wholemeal bread.
If you’re catering to a crowd, cook it in a large paella pan, with a dozen eggs set into it.
This is a delicious breakfast dish to share. Sometimes I like to slip a few slices of cooked sausage into the mix before baking in the oven.
– 1½ tsp cumin seeds
– ¼ cup light olive oil
– 1 brown onion, sliced
– 2 large red capsicums, roasted, peeled and sliced (or a 285g jar
of roasted red peppers, drained and sliced)
– 1 tbsp tightly packed brown sugar
– 1 tsp salt
– 2 x 400g tins diced tomatoes
– pinch saffron
– 1 tsp red chilli flakes
– 8 eggs
Take a medium-sized saucepan and, over low heat, toast the cumin seeds until they are nutty and aromatic. Remove the seeds, grind to a fine powder and set aside.
Using the same saucepan, raise the heat, add the oil and onion and cook until the onion softens and colours a little.
Add the roasted capsicum, sugar, cumin and salt and cook on medium heat for five minutes.
Add the tomatoes, saffron and chilli flakes, and simmer on a low heat for half an hour.
When you are almost ready to serve, add the hot sauce to a shallow ovenproof dish and crack the eggs over the top of the sauce.
Bake the dish in a hot oven for five minutes or until the whites of the eggs are cooked.
Place the dish on the table and serve with toast, raw sliced cucumber, a block of fetta or shanklish and quality black olives.
Instead of wine:
Fill a favourite teapot with a handful of torn mint leaves, one teaspoon of green tea and half a teaspoon of sugar. Leave to steep for a few minutes before pouring.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 23, 2014 as "Mixed blessings". Subscribe here.