Not that long ago, a special occasion called for booze and parties, wild costumes and late nights/early mornings. In these present days of small children and being all grown up, special occasions are mostly food-based. Afternoon barbecues, civilised early dinners, pancake breakfasts, brunch. Which is alright by me, truth be told. I like going to sleep early, and I like to cook. And I love to eat.
And so for Mother’s Day this year, I put on a brunch. First time cooking for guests in our new house. I’m not really one for the hallmark-card holidays. S and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day and since having kids we haven’t really paid much attention to the parents days either. But we’re back in our home town now where the various members of our extended family live, and so this year we celebrated Mother’s Day with my mum and her partner, my little brother, and my older brother, his wife, and their daughter.
Brunch is casual, easy. You want something a little savoury, something a little sweet. You want something that can be prepared beforehand. Basically, you want shakshuka. Shakshuka is an Israeli-by-way-of-Tunisia dish that consists of eggs nestled in a bed of spicy tomato sauce. Straight from oven to table, it’s an ideal shared dish. It’s a most lovely combination of spicy and creamy, and is deliciously more-ish. Once you’ve got your shakshuka game down, you’ll never go back.
For this brunch, I paired the shakshuka with the spicy oomph of schug (a Yemenite version of harissa) to amp the heat, a loaf of crusty fresh bread to mop up the sauces, and a springy Herby Zucchini Salad to bring a light touch. To round everything off we had tea, coffee, crunchy persimmons, and this Saffron & Aniseed Cake, on request from my mum.
The brunch that can do no wrong!
This version isn’t strictly traditional – the addition of eggplant and feta is a little left field – but it is still true to the flavours of the original. And keep in mind that shakshuka is not just a brunch dish – it is a perfectly delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner.
1/2 red capsicum
1 small eggplant
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 cans crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp paprika
1/4 cup red wine
Sea salt & cracked pepper, to taste
6 – 8 eggs
100 grams feta cheese, crumbled
Handful parsley, roughly chopped
Dice the onion, the red capsicum, and the eggplant. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 – 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the capsicum, the eggplant, the garlic and another splash of olive oil. Continue to saute over a low heat until everything is cooked through. Add the chilli flakes, cumin, paprika, sumac, caraway seeds, and stir to coat the veges.
Add the cans of crushed tomatoes and the red wine to the pan. Generously season with salt and pepper, then stir to combine everything. Turn the heat down low and let simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
Gently crack the eggs into the sauce one at a time. Cook for a further 10 minutes. In the meantime, heat your oven grill then transfer the pan from the stovetop to the oven to finish it off, another 3 – 5 minutes (depending on how runny you like your eggs).
Top with crumbled feta and chopped parsley and serve immediately, with fresh crusty bread.
Serves: 6 – 8
4 large red chilli
1 jalapeno chilli
3 red birdseye chilli
1 cup coriander (leaves and stem)
Rind of 1/4 preserved lemon
1 tsp vinegar
1 – 2 tbsps olive oil
Combine the chillis, the coriander, the preserved lemon rind, the vinegar and the oil in a food processor. Combine until smooth.
Herby Zucchini Salad
2 medium-sized zucchini
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh dill
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 tbsps sesame seeds, toasted
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tsps sesame oil
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt & cracked pepper, to taste
Top and tail the zucchini. Slice vertically into thin ribbons, using a mandoline, a vegetable peeler, or a sharp knife and steady hands.
Roughly chop the mint, dill, and parsley.
In a bowl combine the shaved zucchini, the chopped herbs, the lemon juice, both types of oil, the sesame seeds, and salt & pepper to taste. Mix to combine. Let sit for 10 – 15 minutes before serving.