It may have appeared quiet on the Middle Eastern front (well, only from the perspective of my blogging, since quiet it never is in the Middle East) but there has been plenty of action in the test kitchen.
In a recent break from tradition, I deviated from my tendency to religiously adhere to recipes. That tendency can result in sweat, tears, swearing and a kitchen that looks like it has just undergone a night raid by the Israeli army, especially when the recipe in question is from Ottolenghi and has about as many ingredients and twists and turns as a Bourne film (for one recipe I sent my flatmate on the hunt for barberries, which caused her quite a lot of amusement. Luckily she happened to be in Wholefoods at the time, where they actually sell bio-barberries, don’t you know).
But I do usually like to follow recipes and rules. I like the guarantee that instructions offer of, if not a great result, at least something/some higher authority to blame if it doesn’t work out. But, as someone recently commented on one of my social media posts asking whether the small green things on a tree in our front garden were limes or lemons, sometimes you just have to ‘wait and see’. Much of life, and a lot of creative endeavours, are about iteration; and reiteration. My recent foray into growing herbs and allotment gardening is a case in point. Throwing some magic beans or coriander seeds into soil and not knowing for *at least* two weeks whether they are going to offer signs of life, or whether you are going to have to try all over again, feels to me like trying to find your way around in a dark room. But I have to learn to ‘live the questions’, as per Rilke’s advice to the young poet.
The recipe on this week’s blog, simple though it seems, also involved some exploration. It was inspired by a Palestinian friend who, when we were chatting about different dishes, started to talk enthusiastically about something she called Kuadia, (قعدية) which is apparently eaten often in the village she is from, near Nablus, in the north of the occupied West Bank. An alternative name for this dish is ‘egg snack’, which gives more of a hint of its ingredients than the Arabic name, for non-Arabic speakers.
She described it to me as an egg baked in the oven on pastry, with the edges turned up. So the first thing that I imagined was a type of egg in pastry cupcake. I tried that, and sent my special advisor on egg snacks the picture. ‘Looks amazing!’, she said. But after some probing, she told me the pastry should actually be flat, despite the cuteness of the egg cupcake.
As I like to take on double challenges, I tried it again for a birthday/goodbye brunch we hosted for a friend who sadly joined the London exodus, on the same day that I ran a half-marathon for the first time. Turns out that cracking an egg into pastry with a small upturned outer rim is a bit trickier than the cupcake tin version. But only one turned into a Jackson Pollock-esque ‘egg snack’. This time round, I also blind baked the pastry for about ten minutes, and lined some of it with home-made harissa before breaking the egg onto it.
Recipe follows, with an Ottolenghi harissa paste to keep you sweating and swearing.
‘Kuadia’ or ‘Egg snack’
Pastry, as per the recipe on my last blog
Salt, pepper, sumac and za’atar, for seasoning
Dried beans, for blind baking
For the harissa paste
1 red pepper
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
3 hot red chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopppe
½ tbsp. tomato puree
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
For the harissa paste
Place the pepper under a very hot grill until blackened outside and soft, turning occasionally. This should take about 25 minutes. Transfer to another dish, cover with cling film and let cool. Once cooled, peel the pepper and discard the skin and seeds.
Toast the seeds in a dry frying pan on a low heat for about two minutes. Grind to a powder in a pestle and mortar.
Heat the olive oil and fry the onion, garlic and chillis on a medium heat until they are a dark smoky colour and almost caramelized. This should take about 10-15 minutes.
Blitz together all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Add more oil if needed.
For the egg snack
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.
Divide the pastry into small balls, then flatten these into circles, of a size just a bit larger than your average fried egg. Turn up the edges a little, as per the picture.
Put some baking paper on top of the pastry and cover with beans. Blind bake for 5-10 minutes, until the pastry is semi-cooked.
Take out of the oven, remove the beans and baking paper, and quickly line the pastry with harissa paste, if using. Break the egg on top and pop back into the oven, baking for another 8-10 minutes, until the white is cooked.
Delicious served with labneh, hummus and any other typical Middle Eastern breakfast dish.