Last night we took down the Christmas tree, packing away all its ornaments and lights. Restored to its normal decorations, our living room feels empty. Today I will sort through all the colorful cards we received during the holiday season. Filled with photos and warm sentiments from friends and family around the world, these cards are precious to me and a favorite end of year ritual. I love watching as friends and family change in the photos enclosed, love to hear each family’s story of the year past―some lost loved ones, others added new children and grandchildren. The exchange of holiday cards keeps us connected through the most important events of each of our lives. It will be hard to say good-bye to them again for another year. As these, too, are packed away, it is time to turn a bit more inward, to reflect on the year past and begin to build the year ahead. This year, not easy tasks.
So, I cook, to bring renewed warmth and nourishment into a household that suddenly feels cold and a little emptier. Cooking is a process that soothes and focuses me. As I peel and chop, sauté and simmer, the familiar steps lead to a process of change. The seemingly mundane steps of getting ingredients ready, become a rewarding ritual. Whether I combine ingredients in familiar ways or in new recipes, the change they undergo in the cooking process becomes a metaphor for the changes unfolding within me.
This dish of Braised Eggs with Lamb and Tahini combines the flavors, tastes and textures of the Middle East in an exciting way. Based on a recipe fromJerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, fragrant ingredients―garlic, cumin, and cilantro―melt into the lamb as it simmers on the stove. Garlic and cumin need to be sautéed in hot olive oil to bring out their flavors and aromas, the meat must be browned and caramelized with sweet onions, while the creamy yogurt is whipped with tahini and lemon juice to create a unique sauce. Topped with braised eggs and fresh cilantro leaves at the last-minute, this dish is nothing short of a perfect way to bring heat to a cold home and heart that needs reawakening.
Some of you know that my mother has been ill. At 89 she faces major surgery next week, so I will be heading down to Long Island to be with her through the hospitalization and to help her transition to after-care. It will be a difficult trip, one that makes me feel a bit lonely as I think about being away from my immediate family and friends for an extended period. This will be my last post for a couple of weeks. I expect it will be difficult to write until we are on the other side of this family drama.
Until then, I will be thinking of you. Thank you for the warmth you bring to these pages.
I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors, soon.
BAKED EGGS WITH LAMB & TAHINI
Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 10 ounces/300 g ground lamb
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 7 tablespoons/50 g toasted pine nuts
- 2 teaspoons harissa paste
- 1 tablespoon dried lemon peel, finely chopped
- 1 ⅓ cups/200 g cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup/120 ml chicken stock
- 4 large eggs
- ¼ cup/5 g cilantro leaves, rinsed, dried and lightly chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the yogurt sauce:
- ½ cup/ 110 g Greek yogurt paste
- 1 ½ tablespoons/ 25 g tahini paste
- 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon water
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, in a large and heavy frying pan for which you have a tight-fitting lid. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 6 minutes to soften and color a bit. Raise the heat to high, and the lamb, and brown well, 5 to 6 minutes. Season with the sumac, cumin, a bit of salt, and black pepper. Cook until the lamb is fully cooked through. Turn off the heat, stir in the harissa and lemon peel. Set aside.
- While the onion is cooking, heat a separate small cast-iron or other heavy pan over high heat. Once piping hot, add the cherry tomatoes and char for 4 to 6 minutes, tossing the in the pan occasionally, until slightly blackened on the outside. Set aside.
- Prepare the yogurt sauce by whisking together all the ingredients with a pinch of salt. It needs to be thick and rich, but you may need to add a splash of water if it is too stiff.
- You can leave the meat, tomatoes and sauce at this stage for up to an hour. When you ar ready to serve, reheat the meat, add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Make 4 small wells in the mix and break an egg into each well. Cover the pan and cook the eggs over low heat for 3 minutes. Place the tomatoes on top, avoiding the yolks, cover again, and cook for 5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
- Remove from the heat and dot with dollops of the yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with the fresh cilantro leaves.
- Serve at once.
This recipe is closely adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The original recipe calls for ½ cup unsalted pistachios, which I left out due to a nut allergy in our home & 2 tsp. sumac, which was not available at our local grocery store.