Autumn is a perfect time to throw a brunch party. The turning leaves and cooling temperatures seem to encourage us to spend relaxed weekend mornings enjoying good food with family and friends.
When it comes to planning a brunch menu, however, the big challenge becomes deciding on your main dish. When you think about it, most home cooks have fewer recipes in their morning repertoire than they do for dinner parties. So let me offer something different for your next autumn brush: my easy version of shakshouka.
“What?” is probably your response. That’s not surprising, because most people in North America are less familiar with Middle Eastern, eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisines than they are with those of Europe or Asia.
But from Tunisia to Turkey, Morocco to Israel, you’ll find various versions of shakshouka, a dish that gets its name from an Arabic term for “mixture.” (And doesn’t that fun-to-say word itself sound like a mixture?) Described in the broadest terms, it consists of a medley of tomatoes, peppers, herbs and spices, cooked down to a thick, chunky sauce into which eggs are broken and then cooked — in the oven or covered on the stovetop — until the whites are fully set and the yolks are still slightly runny. The eggs, of course, take on some of the flavors of the sauce, which itself provides a robust accompaniment to the featured protein.
Doesn’t that sound both fresh and flavorful while also being robust and warming? And, as you’ll see from the following recipe, which I prepared recently with my fellow chef and friend Marian Getz on the Home Shopping Network, the dish is surprisingly easy and quick to make. It takes no more than about 45 minutes from when you start cutting up the vegetables to the moment you serve it.
You can also easily introduce your own variations. Some cooks saute some crumbled spicy sausage with the onions and peppers. The Moroccan lamb sausage called merguez is traditional, but you could easily substitute chorizo or another favorite.
If you’d like a spicier version, add some chopped fresh chile peppers along with the bell peppers; or season the sauce with other spices like ground coriander, cumin or cayenne. For a cool, creamy texture, dollops of plain yogurt may be added along with the eggs, or feta cheese can be crumbled over the entire dish. However you prepare it, oven-toasted pita bread makes a great accompaniment for sopping up the last traces of sauce.
Is your mouth watering as you read this? Mine sure is! So, I hope you’ll try shakshouka for your next brunch. It’s guaranteed to happily mix up your morning menu.
Makes 5 servings.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium-sized yellow onion, halved and cut crosswise into slices 1/4 inch thick
1 green bell pepper, halved, stemmed, seeded, deveined, and cut crosswise into slices 1/4 inch thick
1 red bell pepper, halved, stemmed, seeded, deveined, and cut crosswise into slices 1/4 inch thick
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups cherry tomatoes, stemmed and cut into quarters
1 3/4 cups good-quality canned or bottled tomato-basil sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro or Italian parsley leaves
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer and flows freely when the pan is tilted. Carefully swirl the oil around the pan to coat the bottom. Add the garlic and onion; saute, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until they turn fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the bell peppers; saute, stirring continuously, until they brighten in color slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the red pepper flakes and the cherry tomatoes; saute until they begin to give up their juices, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Stir in the tomato sauce, season lightly to taste with salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until the mixture has formed a thick but still slightly fluid sauce, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, with a little more salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium
With the back of a large serving spoon, spread the sauce evenly in the pan and then make 6 evenly spaced indentations in the sauce around the perimeter of the pan. One at a time, carefully break an egg into each indentation. Lightly sprinkle the eggs with a little salt and pepper.
Cover the pan and cook until the egg whites are fully set and the yolks are done to your liking, about 10 minutes for yolks that are still slightly runny.
Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley. Present the dish in the pan on a heatproof trivet on the dining table, scooping portions of sauce and egg together onto individual serving plates.