Normally, I can take or leave bell peppers. Even though their brilliant colors are irresistibly shiny, they still elicit no more than meh when eaten. But chef Lior Lev Sercarz showed me how to make bell peppers essential to a dish.
The secret is spices.
Sercarz owns La BoÃ®te, an online and specialty food shop in New York City that sells well-sourced spices and his signature blends. When he asked if I wanted to help him write a cookbook a few years ago, I immediately said yes. Despite years of professional kitchen training, I knew little about spices and wanted to learn from the master.
One vital lesson: Spices bring out the sweetness in bell peppers. This is especially true in shakshuka, the Israeli dish in which eggs simmer in sauce sunny side up. Born and raised in Israel, Sercarz ate countless versions of this breakfast dish before creating variations of his own.
My favorite is green shakshuka, for which cooked leafy greens replace the more common tomato-based sauce. Sercarz’s easy recipe is ideal for brunch, but I am a nonfunctional human on weekend mornings, so I came up with a shortcut. Palak paneer, an Indian spinach dish, comes already spiced and cooked. Added to a simple base of peppers sauteed until sweet, it’s an instant, super-flavorful base for your eggs. (It’s the dish I turn to when I have leftover palak paneer from restaurants or takeout from Indian groceries, but freezer aisle options aren’t bad either.)
Sercarz taught me how spices fluidly cross borders in the kitchen, and you can taste that here. You’ll want to sop up the savory sauce with bread. Pita, naan, chapati, challah — it all works.
INDIAN PALAK PANEER SHAKSHUKA
20 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
Saag paneer can be substituted for palak paneer. It’s the northern Indian version of this dish and sometimes includes other greens. The cubes of paneer cheese add a creamy richness, but it’s just as good without if you don’t eat dairy. Simply start with plain palak or saag instead.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 sweet bell peppers, preferably red and orange, cut in 1/2-inch dice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups palak paneer or saag paneer
6 large eggs, room temperature
2 Fresno or other mild chiles, thinly sliced, for serving
Cilantro sprigs, for serving
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about five minutes.
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Add the palak paneer and 1/2 cup water. Cook, stirring, until the mixture begins simmering. If the mixture is too thick, stir in another tablespoon or two of water; it should be saucy. Crack an egg into a small bowl, then slide it on top of the simmering mixture. Repeat with the remaining five eggs, spacing them apart.
Cover the skillet and cook until the whites are just set and the yolks are still runny, seven to 10 minutes. The whites and yolks will continue to cook as they sit in the hot mixture. Remove from the heat and top with the chiles and cilantro. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and serve immediately.