Chef Yotam Ottolenghi takes seemingly ordinary ingredients and makes them add up to something more vivid than you’d ever imagine. His shakshuka, a typical Israeli breakfast dish of poached eggs in a tomato and pepper sauce is a perfect example. Freshly toasted cumin adds depth of flavor as do the thyme and bay leaves. The little bit of saffron elevates this homey, easy-to-prepare dish to a whole new level.
In a very large pan, dry-roast the cumin seeds over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and onion, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and cilantro, and continue cooking over high heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are colored, 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, saffron and cayenne, and season with one-half teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper, or to taste. Reduce the heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed so the mixture has a pasta sauce-like consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. (You can prepare the pepper mixture up to a couple of days in advance; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.)
Remove the bay leaves, then divide the pepper mix among four small, deep frying pans, each large enough to take a generous individual portion. Place them over medium heat to warm up, then make two gaps in the pepper mix in each pan and carefully break an egg into each gap. Sprinkle with salt and cover the pans with lids. Cook over very low heat until the eggs are just set, 10 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately.
Muscovado sugar can be found at cooking and baking supply stores as well as at select gourmet markets, and is widely available online.
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