Spice up your eggs, for breakfast or supper
Do you remember the two fat ladies? Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright traveling around the British countryside in their Truimph 950 and Watsonian sidecar? I never did many of their recipes but I loved watching them plunge their bejeweled hands into the dish of whatever. Recently I picked their cookbook off the shelf and was perusing. I came upon Muttachar (spiced eggs). I love Indian and this piqued my interest. They note that Clarissa’s step-grandfather was a Sephardic Jew from Calcutta. He would travel back to India to deal with the family’s jute interests and his mother sent him a cook called Fuzdah, who was a “black Jew” from Cochin. This is his South Indian (Kerala) egg dish. Keralan cooking usually uses coconut and curry leaves. We brought back a curry plant from Kerala when we were there several years ago. (You can order one, Murraya kienigii, from Logee’s—logees.com.) The leaves add a distinctive aroma and it will be good, but not the same, without the leaves.
Muttachar (Spiced Eggs) from Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies (1996)
1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion
1 hot green chili pepper, seeded and chopped
1 ripe tomato, sliced (I used canned this time of year)
2 ½ cups coconut milk and water, mixed in equal parts
¼ teaspoon each turmeric, paprika, and ground cilantro
10 fresh curry leaves
A handful of chopped fresh cilantro (fortunately have that in the garden)
Juice of ½ lemon
4 eggs, hard cooked or raw
In a heavy frying pan, heat the oil and sauté the onion until golden. Add the chili, tomato, and fry a little longer. Pour in the coconut milk and water and bring to a boil. Add the turmeric, paprika, ground cilantro, and salt to taste, and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Rub the curry leaves between your palms to release the flavor, and add them with the fresh cilantro to the mixture. Add the lemon juice and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
If you are using the eggs hard-cooked, add them to the sauce and heat through for about 5 minutes. If to be poached, break the eggs gently into the mixture and cook for about 3 minutes.
This dish can be served with rice or with snippets of toast or good bread to mop up the delicious juice.
I just got a new Turkish cookbook, Istanbul & Beyond, by Robyn Eckhardt, and in it is a very similar dish with somewhat different spices, Menemen, Eggs Poached in Chunky Tomato & Pepper Sauce. The author notes that one can find this dish, eggs poached in a vibrant sauce of tomato, peppers and onion served most everywhere in Turkey, but the best versions are found in Istanbul, a city that loves to brunch.
2 tablespoons olive or unsalted butter or a combination of both
2 or 3 mild to hot green chilies such as Anaheim or Holland, seeded and sliced or one green pepper seeded and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 small-medium onion cut into ½ -inch-thick slices
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano or thyme, crushed
2 medium-large ripe tomatoes, peeled if you like, coarsely chopped (1 to 1 ¼ cups)
Freshly ground black pepper
2-4 teaspoons tomato paste, optional
4 large eggs
Crushed red pepper flakes
Heat the olive oil or butter in an 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chilies or bell pepper and onion, sprinkle over the salt, and stir. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and sweat the vegetables until they are soften, about 5 minutes. Do not brown.
Add the dried oregano or thyme, if using and add the tomatoes. Grind a little black pepper and cook until the tomatoes release their juices and start to soften, about 3 minutes. Cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape. Add 2 teaspoons of tomato paste if needed to thicken.
Form 4 shallow craters in the tomato mixture, evenly spaced around the skillet, and break the eggs into them. Raise the heat to medium-low and cook until the whites are just opaque but the yolks are still runny.
Lightly prick each yolk once with a fork and drag some of the yellow into the red sauce. Sprinkle over red pepper flakes and serve immediately.
The Turkish dish is noted to be a cousin to the Israeli egg dish, shakshouka. This dish is similar to a Tunisian dish and is eaten all across North Africa. It may have originated in the Ottoman Empire.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/3 cups chopped onion
1 cup thinly sliced bell pepper, any color
2 cloves garlic, minced, or to taste
2 ½ cups chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 hot chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped, to taste
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, bell peppers, and garlic; cook and stir until the vegetables have softened and the onion has turned translucent, about 5 minutes.
Combine the tomatoes, cumin, paprika, salt, and chili pepper into a bowl and mix briefly. Pour the tomato mixture into the skillet, and stir to combine.
Simmer, uncovered, until the tomato juices have cooked off, about 10 minutes. Make four indentations in the tomato mixture for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the indentations. Cover the skillet and let the eggs cook until they’re firm but not dry, about 5 minutes.
This dish is also similar to the Latin American breakfast dish ‘Huevos Rancheros.’ And around the world we go.
Serve them for breakfast or part of a brunch or perhaps for supper.