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If you’re looking for a new brunch dish, or crave breakfast for dinner, try shakshuka

Cooking with no-shame sauces

“Chef Impersonator” cooks “Shakshuka” a mouthful that means eggs poached in tomato sauce. It’s a staple in Moroccan and Egyptian cuisine and could be compared to huevos rancheros. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)
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“Chef Impersonator” cooks “Shakshuka” a mouthful that means eggs poached in tomato sauce. It’s a staple in Moroccan and Egyptian cuisine and could be compared to huevos rancheros. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)

I love eggs. Scrambled, over easy, sunny side-up, omelets. Any way you can cook them, as long as they are not overcooked, I’ll eat them.

Just don’t try to feed me eggs five minutes after I have just woken up. I still see my mother, who, bless her, had gotten up early, cooked bacon then scrambled eggs all the while yelling at me to get out of bed for my entire school age years. I guess those early morning moments have stayed with me. As much as I love breakfast, I need to be up a while before indulging.

So, I guess I’m more of an early brunch person. I also love breakfast for dinner, especially on Sunday nights. A runny egg on top of a bowl of grits, well that’s heaven to me.

RAL_shakshuka_1
Fred Thompson’s shakshuka. Fred Thompson

This dish, Shakshuka, started to intrigue me about a year ago. It had been floating around the big cities since Yotam Ottolenghi published his award-winning book “Jerusalem” and has become the brunch dish of the moment in brunch-crazed New York City.

So, what is it? There are many variations, but the base is always the same: onions, peppers, tomatoes and eggs. The dish seems to have originated in Libya but has spread throughout the Mediterranean. This is Israel’s breakfast. It’s spicy and bright. For me it’s the ultimate eggs for dinner (or brunch) dish.

Even better, it’s a one pot wonder.

OK, don’t email me and tell me that this recipe is not authentic. I know. I took the base of a Shakshuka and made it my own by adding ground meat. I like the extra heft of the meat, but you can certainly leave it out, creating the vegetarian dish that is more of the Middle East.

I have also left the heat quotient to you. This dish can be as spicy as you want by adding chili peppers, hot sauce or more harissa. In Italy, this dish is called Eggs in Purgatory. Want to guess why?

Now the eggs themselves. The yolks really do need to be runny. As you cut into the eggs and mix them in with the sauce, the sauce becomes creamy, rich and decadent. If looking at a runny egg gives you the hibbie-gibbies, then get one of your dining partners to do it for you.

Also, you can buy the spice blend at specialty shops and online, but I added that recipe to make it easier. Use the spice on fish, pork chops and chicken. Harissa is in most grocery stores.

Brunch season is her. Stick this recipe in your file. It’s great tasting, fast (you can make the sauce ahead) and is beautiful on the plate. Enjoy!

Serving suggestion

Serve with: a green salad or put it over rice, but neither is necessary

To drink: A Beaujolais is nice.

Fred’s Beef Shashuka

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large red pepper, stemmed and seeded and sliced into 1/4 matchsticks or into a 1/4-inch dice (you can throw in a 1/2 yellow pepper too for more color)

1 sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon Baharat spice blend (see below)

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 pound, grounded beef or lamb

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon or more to taste of harissa (optional)

4 pita breads

4 ounces of crumbled feta cheese, divided

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Place an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Cast iron is perfect for this. Add the olive oil, and when it starts to shimmer, throw in the peppers and onion. Cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes.

Stir in the spice blend and parsley, along with a couple of pinches of salt. Now add the grounded meat and cook, breaking it up until it browns.

Pour the tomatoes, juice included, into the pan and stir in the harissa. Let the mixture simmer, until slightly reduced, about 7 minutes. Now’s a good time to wrap the pitas in foil.

Pull the pan off heat, then stir in half the feta. Make 4 wells in the sauce and crack an egg into each well.

Place in the oven with the pitas. Keep a close eye on the eggs. You want the egg whites to just set. A runny yolk adds creaminess to the dish.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the remaining feta and the cilantro. Serve quickly with the pitas to sop up every wonderful bite.

Yield: 4 servings, can be doubled

Baharat Spice Blend

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon allspice

Mix together and store in an airtight container for 6 months.

Yields: 1/2 cup

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