My dear friend and amazing chef Alon Shaya invited me along on a trip to Israel with the equally amazing chefs Mike Solomonov and Ashley Christensen. Preparing for the trip, I wanted to research the Holy Land and its food, so when I hit the ground, I had a grasp on what I could expect. I know a number of people who have made trips there before and all came back blown away. I wanted to suck in every ounce that I could while I was there and I thought going in prepared would help. (A gross miscalculation, it turns out, as there is absolutely no way to prepare yourself for how amazing the food and flavors are in the Holy Land.)
One of the more glaring things about Israel is how similar to the South it is in its ethnic diversity. It is made up of dozens of different immigrant populations that have converged on this region and created a Middle Eastern gumbo of people and, hence, food. One of the dishes I became fascinated with was shakshouka. So much so that I started cooking it before I left, based on certain principles I surmised would define the dish. I never found a version that knocked my socks off while I was there (though I ate a truckload of other amazing food), and I like our version of it better than any I have yet had.
Reprinted with permission from Big Bad Breakfast by John Currence, copyright © 2016. Photography by Ed Anderson. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.
Learn more about John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast and listen to The Food Schmooze® to hear him describe this recipe as well as several others from the book.
- 2 pounds fresh San Marzano tomatoes or ripe Roma tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons clarified butter or your preferred cooking fat
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 1 large red bell pepper diced
- 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons za'atar
- 1-1/2 teapoons ground cumin
- 2 teapoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- black pepper
- 1-1/2 cups crumbled feta or queso fresco
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- warm buttered pita bread for serving
- Preheat the broiler. Toss together the tomatoes and oil in a bowl. Season lightly with salt and place on an oiled baking sheet. Slide the baking sheet under the broiler.
- Turn the tomatoes continually until all sides are blistered and browned, but not burnt, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove the tops and coarsely chop. Reserve the tomatoes and their juice.
- Turn off the broiler and preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Warm the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and bell pepper and gently cook until very soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about another 30 seconds. Stir in the za’atar, cumin, paprika, and red pepper flakes, and blend completely. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice and season with salt and black pepper. Turn the heat to low and simmer until the tomatoes thicken, about 15 minutes. Stir in the feta.
- With a large serving spoon, make 6 indentations in the tomato sauce, evenly spaced around the pan. Gently crack the eggs into the indentations and season the eggs with salt and pepper. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake until the eggs are just set, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cilantro. Scoop portions from the pan and serve with the pita.
NOTE: Za’atar is actually a couple of things. It is, on one hand, a regional blend of spices (heavy on sumac and thyme) that takes on different flavor profile depending on the locale and the cook blending it. On the other hand, it is a plant from the oregano family. In the Bible it was referred to as hyssop and is mentioned as a medicinal herb and cleanser. It has a delightful flavor or that’s like a cross between the pepperiness of savory, the earthiness of thyme, and the sweetness of rosemary. Recipes for blending your own za’atar are available all over the Internet.
Leave a Reply