North African Brunch

If you have even an ounce of culinary curiosity in you, chances are very good you have encountered something like today’s dish along the way. There are a variety of cultures, especially in the Mediterranean region of the world, that each have their own version of baked eggs over a bed of sautéed vegetables. I have, for example, both Greek and Italian cookbooks that include some form of this recipe, but you can also find it in Lebanon and much of the Middle East. This particular adaptation is called Shakshouka, and is common in North Africa as a breakfast or light lunch.

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Here are your ingredients to serve 4 people:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 red onions, sliced into thin crescents
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp. red chili powder (cayenne or Kashmiri chili)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. za’atar spice
  • Toasted bread/crostini for dipping

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes until they become aromatic. Toss in the onions, garlic, chili powder and salt, and sauté until the onions are tender, which will take 5-10 minutes. Next add the peppers and sauté them for a few minutes, then reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and let the mixture cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the pepper/onion mixture is very tender, add the tomatoes plus a generous pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper. Continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes, then use a spoon to make four holes in the mixture, and crack an egg into each one. Sprinkle with the za-atar spice and another pinch of black pepper, then pop the skillet into the oven to bake until the eggs are set – about 10 minutes. Be careful not to overbake the eggs, because you will want the yolks to stay runny for optimal dipping pleasure.

A quick note about za’atar spice: it sounds exotic but it really isn’t. It’s just a name for a blend of commonly available dried herbs and spices like thyme, oregano, sesame seeds and sumac. You can find it at some stores, or just look it up online and make your own.

Anyway, here’s what you get when your skillet comes out of the oven. Dip some crunchy crostini or thick toast into the runny eggs and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face. Until next time: happy brunching, and eat well, my friends!

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