I've had my appetite whetted for eggs cooked with tomatoes since Molly's gratin, and reading about Lindy's breakfast of champignons and Deb's version with lettuce pesto has only served to deepen this hunger as of late. So when the New York Times ran an article about hummus in July (not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Times swiftly followed suit six weeks later - though their article actually included a recipe for the stuff) and featured hummus guru Ori Apple's shakshuka - a North African breakfast dish of stewy tomatoes and peppers with just-set eggs - I considered the whole thing a fait accompli.
But once I got around to actually reading the recipe and writing down my grocery list, it didn't take long for me to realize that something wasn't right. My first tip-off? Oh, I don't know, maybe those two entire 28-ounce cans of tomatoes in addition to eight fresh plum tomatoes in a recipe meant for two people? Obliging blogger that I am, I bought both cans, but in case you're wondering, one of them still stands unopened in my cupboard.
The next thing that seemed odd was the entire honking tablespoon of salt. Now, as we all know (don't we?), canned tomatoes have salt added to them, so even if I had resorted to following the recipe and using both cans, that much salt would have been insane. And finally, I'm just not sure I understand the concept of za'atar being used as a garnish here. Not in this stewy, soupy dish. Why not just stir the fragrant mixture into the stew, so that when you eat a spoonful dusty, dry herbs don't get lodged in your windpipe while you try to chew?
I made my shakshuka with two red peppers (because the green ones, well, I hate them), no jalapenos (and it was remarkably spicy all the same), eight fresh plum tomatoes, a cup of tomato juice, water instead of vegetable broth, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and still this dish was so salty that I found myself diluting the mixture at the end with water (I didn't have any potatoes around).
I don't know - did Ori ever actually use these quantities for the stuff he serves at the Hummus Place? Do his customers leave the restaurant in water-starved delirium? People, I love salt. I'll happily sprinkle it on almost anything I eat. But for God's sakes, if you make this, start out with no salt at all and proceed cautiously. Okay? Let Mama Wednesday help you.
With all those adjustments, this could be such a nice dinner meal, especially with warmed pita (we ate it with La Brea bread that I saw for the first time at D'Agostino's and was so overcome by that I had to buy it. The verdict? Oh, Nancy. What were you thinking?). But proceed with caution. That's all I'm saying.
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced, seeded jalapeño (optional)
2 red or green bell peppers, roughly chopped
8 fresh plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 28-ounce cans peeled Italian plum tomatoes, strained (juices reserved) and roughly chopped (I used 1 cup of tomato juice instead of this)
½ teaspoon hot paprika or cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
1 teaspoon sugar (I left this out)
1 cup vegetable broth (I used water)
4 large eggs
Za'atar, for serving
Warm pita bread, for serving.
1. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat, and heat oil. Add onion and sauté until lightly browned. Add garlic, jalapeño and bell peppers, and sauté 2 minutes more. Add fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Add hot paprika, sweet paprika, turmeric, salt, pepper and sugar. Stir for 1 minute. Add 1 cup canned tomato juice, and ½ cup vegetable broth. Bring to a full boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered until mixture is very thick and has little liquid left, about 1 hour; stir occasionally to make sure vegetables do not stick to bottom of pan, and add more tomato juice or vegetable broth as needed.
3. To serve, season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently crack eggs into pan, taking care not to break yolks. Simmer until whites start to solidify but yolks remain runny, 6 to 8 minutes. Ladle equal portions of vegetables and eggs into two serving bowls. Sprinkle with za'atar to taste, and serve with warm pita bread.