King Daddy and I were marveling today as we wolfed down a plate of chicken and chorizo at our favorite Mexican restaurant how far we’ve come since we were kids. In my hometown, there was one – yes – ONE Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t even a restaurant; take-out only. There was one Italian restaurant. No Greek, no Mediterranean, no Thai and no Japanese. Indian food? I wouldn’t discover it for another 30 years. Even when we moved to Tennessee in 1993, the popular restaurant of choice was Red Lobster.
N0w, we can get a decent bowl of the delicious Vietnamese soup, Pho, not 10 minutes from the house. There’s stewed goat to be had at the Indian buffet nearby. And there’s sushi in every supermarket. Good times. We are living in very good times.
When we moved here there was no access to ethnic ingredients. Making a recipe like the fabulous braised eggs with lamb, tahini and sumac would have been impossible. Now, it’s a short hunt for the ingredients. Makes me feel like I’m wearing my grown-up pants. The recipe comes from a fabulous cookbook, Jerusalem, which introduces some of us to new flavors. If you are from the Middle East, it’s probably the equivalent of cooking from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. But to this Tennessee girl, exploring ingredients such as sumac, tahini and harissa is thrilling.
So here’s my primer for the uninitiated about some of the more unusual ingredients and where to get them (at least in Nashville).
Ground lamb: It is usually available in supermarkets. You just have to hunt for it in the meat section. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have my beloved Publix in your hometown and they don’t have ground lamb, just ask the meat guy and he’ll grind some for you.
Sumac: This is a spice that has a tart flavor, sort of like little pellets of lemon juice. I sprinkle it on salads, use it in stews and it’s a must for this recipe. I get sumac at the International Market at the Nashville Farmer’s Market.
Harissa: Harissa is a hot red pepper paste used in North African cooking. I had to hunt for it hard at the Whole Foods, but I found a jar of it nestled near the hot sauces and salsa.
Tahini: This is more common than you think. Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds and it’s what makes hummus taste so good. You can find jars or cans of it in the International aisle of most supermarkets.
Preserved lemon: I struck out on this one. There’s a recipe in the book, but you have to make it in advance and I needed some braised eggs with lamb, tahini and sumac immediately so I just left it out.
Don’t get me wrong. King Daddy still loves his country fried steak. But I got the ultimate complement for this dish: “I could have that again.” And you will, King Daddy. You will.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
- 10 oounces ground lamb
- 2 teaspoon sumac plus extra to finish
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Scant ½ cup toasted unsalted pistachios
- 7 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 2 teaspoons harissa
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon peel
- 1⅓ cups cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 4 large free-range eggs
- ¼ cup picked cilantro leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Yogurt Sauce
- Scant ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 1½ tablespoons tahini paste
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon water (as needed)
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium, heavy-bottomed 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, add the lamb, and brown well, 5 to 6 minutes. Season with sumac, cumin, ¾ teaspoon salt, and some black pepper and cook for another minute. Turn off the heat, stir in the nuts, harissa, and preserved lemon and set aside.
- While the onion is cooking, heat a separate small caste-iron pan over high heat. Once piping hot, add the cherry tomatoes and char for about 4-6 minutes, tossing them 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. In needs to be thick and rich but you may need to add a slash of water if it is stiff.
- Add the chicken stock to the meat 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.
- Remove from the heat and dot with dollops of the yogurt sauce, sprinkle with sumac, and finish with cilantro.