Today I want to talk to you about Ottolenghi. For the uninitiated, Yotam Ottolenghi is an award-winning Israeli-born chef based in the UK. He writes a column for the Guardian, which I religiously pour over every week. A bit of a culinary wizard, his recipes call for unlikely ingredients that come together to create magic on your plate- the culinary equivalent of a Girltalk mashup. Cooking from one of his recipes does take a small leap of faith however, because like me, in the midst of all the measuring and stirring, you might catch yourself wondering 'am I really serving banana fritters with ricotta'? But trust the man, he didn't win a James Beard award for nothing.
The reason I'm telling you this is because I recently discovered that I spend way too much time watching promos of his new book, Jerusalem, on youtube, and decided to do myself a favour and buy the book. I am happy to report that my copy of Jerusalem is making it's way towards me as I type this.
The only catch with an Ottolenghi recipe is that a lot of the ingredients are hard to source, and let's be honest, how many dishes will you make that use preserved lemons? But that said, he has a fair point when he says 'isn't cooking meant to be an adventure? And would I have this column if I cooked only potatoes, button mushrooms and bacon?' Touché, Ottolenghi, touché.
One of my favourite recipes from the huge selection offered by the Guardian is shakshura, which is a breakfast dish that is as simple as it is delicious. Popular in Israel, it was brought to the Levant by Tunisian Jews. Variants of the dish however, are found all over North Africa and several other parts of the world. In fact, there is a Mexican dish that I love called huevos rancheros which is quite similar- fried eggs in a spicy chilli-tomato gravy, served with tortillas, rice and refried beans. A day started on that note cannot go badly I would rationalize as I dragged my friends first thing in the morning to our local Mexican restaurant in the heart of Little Italy.
It turns out there are several ways to prepare shakshuka, suggesting that there are only general guidelines and no strict rules of preparation. I've looked through recipes by Smitten Kitchen, David Lebovitz and of course, Ottolenghi and picked my favourite ingredients to include in my version.
Although it takes a bit of patience (and will power to not dip your finger in every five minutes), it is easy enough to make once you have prepped the ingredients. Like pasta sauce, the tomato gravy can be made ahead and stored in your fridge/freezer cutting down the cooking time down by more than half. And like any good breakfast food, it makes for a great meal at any time of the day. Served with warm pita, it is comfort food at it's unfussy and delicious best.
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 green capsicum, sliced thinly (because that’s what I had at hand. I’m sure yellow or red would work great as well)
1 small onion, sliced thinly
4 large tomatoes, diced roughly
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
3 red chillies, sliced thinly
¼ teaspoon cumin
small bunch parsley, chopped
small bunch coriander, chopped
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
100 gm crumbled feta
salt and pepper to taste
Dry roast the cumin in a pan on low heat for 2-3 minutes until aromatic.
Pour the oil into the pan, wait for it to heat up and then add the onions, garlic and red chilies into it and sauté for 3-5 minutes.
Add the peppers, parsley, coriander (set some aside to garnish at the end), sugar, salt, and sauté on high heat for another 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, a splash of vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
Cook on low heat until it gest to the consistency of a chunky pasta sauce (you need to add water to help it along), between 10-15 minutes. Check for seasoning again.
Make two nests in the tomato mixture for the eggs to be dropped into.
Gently crack open an egg into each nest and let it cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the yolk just about sets but is still wobbly. Season the eggs if needed, and sprinkle with crumbled feta and coriander.
Serve immediately with warm pita.