You might know I have a certain affinity for Middle Eastern food. But what you don’t know is that a rotating shawarma rotisserie makes my eyes light up, falafel on a menu requires a compulsory order, and house-made, still-hot flatbread steals my heart – even without hummus or baba ghanoush for dipping. Middle Eastern food, which I leared to cook from my mother-in-law in her Damascene kitchen, is near and dear to me. Jerusalem, what many consider to be the crossroads or melting pot of Middle Eastern cuisine because of its various sources of influence, is a city I’ve always wanted to visit…why not start with the food from Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful cookbook Jerusalem?
The cover recipe, Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini, & Sumac, is absolutely gorgeous. Reading through the ingredient list, I noticed that there is a number of various textures and flavors going on in this dish: lamb, sumac, preserved lemon, harisssa paste, two kinds of nuts, and tahini, to name a few. Let me first say, I didn’t always love lamb; it actually wasn’t until after I lived in the Middle East for a while that I started to enjoy it. I’ve found that lamb over there is prepared much more flavorfully than lamb dishes here in the U.S.; now that I know how to prepare it, lamb is a personal favorite. An interesting ingredient in this recipe is sumac. If you’re not familiar with sumac, it’s a deep-colored spice made from ground (non-poisonous) sumac berries. Ground sumac can range in color from red, to reddish-brown, to reddish-purple; similar to lemon, its flavor is pleasantly tart and it really helps to brighten a dish. While this meal would be perfect for dinner, I decided to make it for brunch one weekend morning when we were having a couple friends over. Read my notes below to see what I thought of this recipe.
Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini, & Sumac
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 25 min
Cook Time: 25 min
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (1 1/4 cups/200 g total)
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
10 oz/300 g ground lamb
2 teaspoons sumac, plus extra to garnish
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Scant 1/2 cup/50 g toasted, unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
7 tablespoons/50 g toasted pine nuts
2 teaspoons harissa paste (store-bought or use the recipe in Jerusalem on page 301; see Tips below)
1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon peel (store-bought or use the recipe in Jerusalem on page 303)
1 1/3 cups/200 g cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup/120 ml chicken stock
4 large free-range eggs
1/4 cup/5 g cilantro leaves or 1 tablespoon Zhoug (if you want to use homemade Zhoug, you can use the recipe in Jerusalem on page 301)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Scant 1/2 cup/100 g Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons/25 g tahini paste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium, heavy-bottomed frying pan for which you have a tight-fitting lid. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 6 minutes to soften and color a bit. Raise the heat to high, add the lamb, and brown well, 5 to 6 minutes. Season with the sumac, cumin, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper and cook for another minute. Turn off the heat, stir in the nuts, harissa, and preserved lemon and set aside.
2. While the onion is cooking, heat a separate small cast-iron or other heavy pan over high heat. Once piping hot, add the cherry tomatoes and char for 4 to 6 minutes, tossing them in the pan occasionally, until slightly blackened on the outside. Set aside.
3. Prepare the yogurt sauce by whisking together all the ingredients with a pinch of salt. It needs to be thick and rich, but you may need to add a splash of water if it is stiff.
4. You can leave the meat, tomatoes, and sauce at this stage for up to an hour. When you are ready to serve, reheat the meat, add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Make 4 small wells in the mix and break an egg into each well. Cover the pan and cook the eggs over low heat for 3 minutes. Place the tomatoes on top, avoiding the yolks, cover again, and cook for 5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
5. Remove from the heat and dot with dollops of the yogurt sauce, sprinkle with sumac, and finish with the cilantro. Serve at once.
• The Middle Eastern ingredients needed for this recipe can be found at a Middle Eastern grocery store, in the international aisle of some regular grocery stores, or online.
• Harissa paste is a Tunisian hot chili sauce; if you don’t have it on hand or can’t find it, you can use whatever hot chili sauce you like (although the flavor will change slightly, it will still add that slight element of heat to the dish).
• The recipe says to use a “medium, heavy-bottom frying pan” for this dish; I used my 12-inch cast-iron skillet and it was perfect.
• The recipe made a bit too much yogurt sauce for the dish. We ended up using about half of it, so next time I make this I’ll cut the yogurt sauce recipe in half.
• Once you add the eggs, try to cook them to the point where the whites are set, but the yolks are runny; for me, this took about 2 to 3 minutes longer than the suggested cooking time in the recipe.
• I went easy on the cilantro because 1/4 cup seemed like a lot, but mostly because cilantro really isn’t my thing.
Jerusalem, Ten Speed Press, Copyright 2012
This was a hit all around. It was a wonderful balance of flavors…spicy heat (from the harissa), tanginess (from the sumac and preserved lemon), and sweetness (from the cherry tomatoes). The textures also played off each other well, especially the creaminess from the yogurt sauce and the crunch from the nuts. We served this dish with flatbread for scooping it up, along with a green salad on the side.
Did this recipe deserve the cover spotlight?
Definitely. It was a beautiful fusion of Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients. The dish itself was a melting-pot-style combination of flavors and ingredients, which is beautifully reflective of the cuisine Jerusalem itself is known for.