Several Middle Eastern restaurants have opened up recently in Toronto, no doubt sparked by the cult of the Ottolenghi cookbooks and a desire for spicy, flavourful food.
The latest, Byblos, the brainchild of restaurant impresario Charles Khabouth, is spectacular. Executive chef Stuart Cameron, who also oversees the kitchen at Patria, has developed a memorable menu. He graciously gave me his recipe for Shakshouka, which is essentially a spicy tomato, red pepper sauce with eggs. He brings it to greater heights by liberally garnishing it with a lip-smacking garlic sauce. Bring your breath mints.
Although the eggs are poached in the tomato sauce in this recipe, they can also be fried or poached separately and then placed on top of the sauce in a soup bowl. Small, cast-iron frying pans make a lovely presentation, if you have four. You can also divide the sauce in half and cook four eggs in two frying pans then divide for serving.
There are various components to this dish, all of which may be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week. The spice mixture is useful for extra flavour in all kinds of cooking. Cameron uses a Turkish red chili spice paste found at some Middle Eastern stores, but a perfectly fine substitute is equal amounts tomato paste and harissa.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 red peppers seeded and chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp chili paste
2 tbsp Turkish paste or tomato paste plus harissa
6 cups puréed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Salt and pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
Chervil sprigs or coarsely chopped parsley
Heat olive oil in a sauce pan, add onions, and cook at a low heat for 5 minutes or until softened slightly. Add peppers and garlic and continue to cook for 15 to 20 minutes longer or until vegetables are very soft. Add cumin and chili paste, and stir until aromatic. Add Turkish paste and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tastes incorporate and the sauce is thickened.
Season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.
Divide sauce into four small stove-safe pans. Bring to a good simmer. Crack two eggs into each pan and cover. Cook over medium heat until the egg white has set but the yolk remains runny, 4 to 5 minutes.
Swirl toum over dish, sprinkle with grated pecorino and garnish with chervil. Serve with crunchy bread.
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Suggested Wine Pairings
It’s a shame there’s no longer much wine made in Algeria. Not long ago, the former French colony was the world’s largest wine exporter, but its post-independence output has slowed to a trickle. This dish is popular not only in the Middle East but also in north Africa. To me it sounds like a great “breakfast” for dinner dish, a non-alcoholic answer to France’s oeufs en meurette (poached eggs in red-wine sauce). Chef Cameron’s preparation is rich, aromatic and tangy. I’d suggest a bright, crisp, light-bodied red, such as Beaujolais from France or a Canadian gamay (red Beaujolais is made from the gamay grape). And if you have time, chill the bottle in the fridge for 20 minutes to accentuate the zippy acids and bring it into better harmony with the tomato sauce. Beppi Crosariol