This is a very simple breakfast recipe of eggs simmered in a spiced tomato sauce. This is usually served with a side of crunchy vegetables, labneh (strained and salted yoghurt cheese) or some slices of fried white cheese and lots of fresh bread for dipping. Versions of this dish exist all over the Middle East, the most famous being the North African Shakshuka.
The Palestinian twist to this version is the addition of pimentos (also commonly known in Europe as all spice) berries to the sauce. The pimentos berry is indigenous to Jamaica and came to Europe and the Mediterranean in the 16th century. It was a big hit in the Middle East, where it is used in the cuisine, probably as much as it is in Jamaica. With its peppery warmth and sweet fragrance, it is heavily used in tomato based sauces, stews and for marinating meat. I have also thrown a few whole berries into red fermented cabbage for sauerkraut with some Eastern vibes.
A friend told me that this dish was a prison ‘delicacy’ back in the 1970’s when he was incarcerated. Most families I know have had a relative and many friends who have been imprisoned on political grounds at some point during the last 70 years. Political prison means militarily prison; incarceration, requiring no evidence of a crime and no time limit to your release.
The story goes that prisoners would trade their contraband cigarettes with the guards for cans of tomato sauce. Eggs were smuggled out of the kitchen by the workers and these eggs would be cracked directly into the can and a lighter placed under the can to cook everything. That is basically haute cuisine in terms of prison gastronomy.
My version is slightly more complex but I think of those people crouched over their cans and flicking their lighters each time I make it.
- 4 eggs
- 1 can of tomatoes or if available 4 fresh large, juicy tomatoes roughly chopped
- 1 tsp tomato puree
- 1 cup of water
- 1 white onion
- 1 fresh red chilli
- 1 sprig of parsley
- 1 1/2 tsp of pimentos berries
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt
- Sharp knife
- Medium sized frying pan
- A glass
- Optional – 2 small cast iron pans – I cook the tomato sauce in a large pan and then separate the sauce into 2 cast iron pans for the simmering of the eggs stage.
- Finely chop the onion and gently fry in the olive oil until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the salt, cinnamon, pimentos berries, ground coriander and chilli flakes if using. Cook with the onions for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes followed by a pinch of sugar, lemon juice and a glass of water. Bring to the boil and reduce to a lively simmer for approximately 15 / 20 minutes until it is thick but moveable.
- Turn down the heat in your pan to a gentle simmer. Make 4 little ‘wells’ or holes and crack an egg into each one. I like to crack the eggs into glasses in advance in order that I can quickly tip them into the holes.
- Quickly using a fork, swirl the egg whites to combine with the sauce. Season the eggs with a sprinkle of salt..
- Cook for approximately 8 minutes until the whites have set.
- Sprinkle with chilli and parsley and serve with a side of crunchy vegetables, labneh and bread.
- Spices – try 1 tsp of cumin seeds instead of ground coriander
- Try adding a tsp of harissa instead of chilli flakes to the tomatoes
- More vegetables; add one peeled and finely diced potato or a peeled and finely diced eggplant at the onion stage plus 2 extra tablespoons of olive oil.
- Sprinkle with feta or other crumbly goat / sheep cheese before serving
- Serve with a side of labneh