Him: Where do you want to go?
Me: Oh, I don’t know. Wherever.
Him: Wanna just zig?
“Zigging,” as he calls it, is code for meandering the blocks of our neighborhood aimlessly, either by car or foot, until we stumble upon a restaurant that piques our interest. Cute in theory, but weren’t restaurant lists and reviews invented for a reason? And so the conversation continues:
Me: I’m far too hungry to zig and I don’t want to get all hangry. Let’s just go to [insert our favorite neighborhood spot.]
Him: That place again? Don’t you want to try someplace new?
And the debate carries on, tummies grumbling, until one of us inevitably becomes hungry enough to concede. If I win, we go to a neighborhood favorite. If he wins, we zig.
I’ll just come out and say it. I love trying new foods, restaurants, and dishes. I love and appreciate culinary diversity and new experiences and that’s part of why I entered into food blogging in the first place. But, I confess, I also tend to get just a tad…obsessed with things. And restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg. Even within restaurants I sometimes become obsessed with certain dishes and have such a hard time veering away from my favorites! They become a kind of comfort food. Something that’s simple, easy, and makes me feel at home even though I’m dining out. Not all the time. Just sometimes…
And such was the case with my favorite brunch spot in our new hometown of Portland, Oregon, Tasty N Sons. We haven’t even lived in Portland for a full year yet and we’ve been to this brunchery at least two dozen times. There’s usually a two-hour wait, if you’re lucky, so we always pass the time with a round or two of Bloodys, topped with their house-made spicy jerky and pickled vegetables before moving on to the good stuff. And by that, I mean the Shakshuka.
Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern-inspired dish made of onions, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and myriad spices, topped with a spicy African lamb sausage known as merguez and runny baked eggs. The first time I ordered it, I had no idea what to expect. I felt confident in my choice because I love merguez and Middle Eastern food in general, but for brunch? I was skeptical to say the least.
When my first-ever shakshuka was placed in front of me, slightly sizzling in its heavy cast iron skillet, with eggs and sausage drowned in a savory sauce of tomatoes, peppers, and onions, it only took one whiff for me to know that we, the shakshuka and me, would have a love affair in no time. Cumin, coriander, paprika and fennel all filled the air, their complex aromas spewing up from the skillet like lava from a volcano. Roasted onions and peppers, cooked low and slow until sweet, sat soaking in the spiced tomatoes. And the piquant harissa cut through it all like a knife. The best part about shakshuka, though, is that it is served with grilled slices of French bread, just slightly blackened on the edges by an open flame, meaning you can mop up all of its savory goodness using the smoky, charred bread as your trusty vessel. And when that’s an option, who in the world would want to zig?
Shakshuka with Moroccan Spiced Lamb Sausage
Spiced Lamb Sausage Ingredients:
- 1½ teaspoons of coriander seed, dry toasted
- 1½ teaspoons of cumin seed, dry toasted
- 1½ teaspoons of anise seed or fennel seed, dry toasted
- 1½ teaspoons of cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon of cayenne
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric
- ½ lb ground lamb sausage
- 1 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 tablespoons of harissa
- ½ tablespoon of tomato paste
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
Spiced Lamb Sausage Method:
Begin by toasting the coriander, cumin, and anise (or fennel) seeds in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. If you notice it start to smoke, remove from heat. Combine toasted spices, along with the cinnamon, cayenne, and turmeric using a mortar and pestle. Set aside 1/2 tablespoon for the sausage and then store the rest in a spice jar for future use.
Place the spice mixture and all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Mix together gently, using your hands.
Form a patty and cook on a skillet to test seasoning. Adjust seasoning as you see fit. Once you’ve got the seasoning where you want it, form small patties, about the diameter of a golf ball with the meat. Cover and refrigerate while you begin the shakshuka.
Note: When I made this, I doubled the sausage and reserved half of it as “burger patties” to serve as lamb burgers for dinner later that evening. Highly recommend.
- ¼ cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (not diced)
- 2 green bell peppers, roasted and thinly sliced vertically
- 2 red bell peppers, roasted and thinly sliced vertically
- ¾ teaspoon of paprika
- ¾ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1 cup of whole canned plum tomatoes with juice
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 large eggs
- 1 loaf of French bread, sliced, slathered with olive oil or butter, and grilled (or toasted if you don’t have a grill)
Begin by roasting the bell peppers. Place each pepper in the middle of a gas burner, turn the flame to high, and let it get all black and charred on the outside. Use a pair of tongs to rotate it as you go so that each side (besides the top, which has the stem) is evenly charred. Once it’s mostly blackened, place it directly into a paper bag for 10-15 minutes. This loosens the skin. A ziplock bag will also work, but I personally try to avoid combining heat and plastic when I cook. Remove from the bag and peel off the outer layer of the pepper. Chop the top off of the pepper, slice it into thin strips, and de-seed the pepper using a knife.
In a large cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium until onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the green and red peppers and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add paprika, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Add the tomatoes to the skillet, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as you stir them into the mix. Add the raw lamb sausage patties (if using—for a vegetarian option you can omit) to the mixture, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to cook down, about 15-20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to your taste preferences.
Crack the eggs over the sauce, making sure they are evenly distributed across the surface and not piled on top of one another. Be careful not to break the yolks. (Tip: If you’re worried about breaking the yolks, crack them into a small bowl or glass first and then pour them into the shakshuka, gently, one at a time.) Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the egg whites are set but yolks are still runny, about 5-8 minutes.
Serve with crusty French bread, grilled on an open flame or toasted.
Spiced lamb recipe adapted from Food52.
Shakshuka recipe from Tasty N Sons in Portland, Oregon.
Harissa can be purchased pre-made at most major food stores. I bought mine at Whole Foods. You can also make your own.
While I include a homemade recipe for the spiced Moroccan Lamb, you could also substitute pre-made Merguez Sausage instead.