I have discovered possibly the best Israeli-inspired brunch dish of all time. You think that’s a really specific category? It’s not. I know this because I now have two whole cookbooks from chef Yotam Ottolenghi (“Plenty” and “Jerusalem”). Born and raised in, guess where, Jerusalem, Ottolenghi moved to London in 1998 where he has a deli chain and a restaurant (or two… I’m not positive). Anyway, last year, my mom gave Jonah “Plenty” for his birthday, and while the pictures are absolutely beautiful and the food looks delicious, the recipes are a little intimidating. Lots of kind of obscure ingredients like muscovado sugar and tamarind paste and harissa. So we made maybe one or two things from it. But in the last year, we have grown much more ambitious in the kitchen, so when I was in Berkeley visiting my sister and I saw “Jerusalem” (and it’s latke recipe, which I will sharing with you shortly) I wanted it. Badly. And guess what. I got it. For my birthday. From my sister. Because my family is awesome and gifts each other beautiful cookbooks and kitchen appliances.
Anyway, when I was home for Thanksgiving, my dad made the shakshuka out of “Plenty” for brunch one morning. (Let it be noted that there is ALSO a shakshuka recipe in “Jerusalem” and that they are, indeed, different.) Now, as one who has only recently grown to love bell peppers, I was skeptical about liking this dish. It is, afterall, mostly bell peppers. But oh my gosh you guys. Go make this NOW. It’s so amazing. Really complex flavors (thanks saffron and muscovado sugar), brilliant colors, and delicious leftovers. Best enjoyed with some crusty bread (think rye or a French batard or something like that).
Serves 4 generously
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil (I would maybe do a little less than this, but try it and see what you think)
2 large onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced into 3/4-inch slices
2 yellow bell peppers, same preparation
4 tsp muscovado sugar (yes, it’s an obscure ingredient, but now I want to put it in everything)
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs worth of thyme leaves, roughly chopped
2 Tbl chopped parsley
2 Tbl chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (if it’s not tomato season, 2 small cans of canned tomatoes will work perfectly, but I would recommend draining most if not all of the juice first.)
1/2 tsp saffron threads
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper
up to 1 1/8 cups water
In a very large pan (seriously, probably the biggest pan you’ve got is a good idea), dry roast the cumin seeds on high heat for a couple of minutes. Add the oil and onions, and saute for about 5 minutes. Then add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and cilantro, and keep cooking it on high heat for 5-10 minutes, until everything is starting to get some nice color to it.
Now add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and a bit of salt and pepper. Bring the heat down to low and cook for 15 minutes. If you aren’t using canned tomatoes, keep adding water during this time so that the mix has kind of a chunky spaghetti sauce consistency. Because the canned tomatoes were pretty juice and I didn’t drain them completely, I found no need to add water. Give the mixture a taste, and adjust the seasoning as you see fit. More salt? More pepper? More muscovado sugar? Go nuts.
After 15 minutes on low heat, go ahead and remove the bay leaves. Now Ottolenghi has you divide the mixture among 4 little frying pans, but let’s face it, I’m not going to unnecessarily dirty 4 extra dishes. If it’s a fancy breakfast and you’ve got those adorable mini cast-iron skillets, maybe that’s your thing. But I just kept it all in the same one big pan for this part. Make some gaps in the pepper mix, and break one egg into each gap. (I surveyed my crowd to see how many eggs we each wanted, so I did 6.) Sprinkle with some salt and cover the pan with a lid (or tightly with some foil, if your pan doesn’t have a lid). Cook on “a very (!) gentle heat” for 10-12 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. A runny yolk is preferable. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with some crusty bread. Enjoy! I promise, once you make this, you’ll come up with a million excuses/occasions to repeat it. It’s so delicious. And as I said, it makes great leftovers because the flavors just get to deepen even more.