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    • Randy Graham

      Columnist
    • April 6, 2014 in Columnists

    Spicy Moroccan Eggplant with Baked Eggs

    Photo: Randy Graham, Valley Vegetarian

    In this dish, tender chunks of eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions cook slowly in tasty ras el hanout spices and get an additional spicy kick from harissa. Eggs are then cracked onto the surface of this North African stew and baked until just set.

    So what is ras el hanout? It is a complex, aromatic Moroccan spice blend. It literally translates from Arabic as “head of the shop,” implying it is the best of the best of spice blends. Ras el hanout generally includes cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, various peppers and turmeric, but 30 or more ingredients might be used. My recipe uses 15 ingredients, including saffron.

    What is harrisa?  In short, harissa is North Africa’s favorite hot sauce condiment. The word for this fiery Tunisian chile paste is derived from the Arabic verb harasa, “to pound,” because it is traditionally made with mortar and pestle. My recipe calls for store-bought harrisa paste.

    Although this dish takes about 4 hours from prep to table, it is hearty, nutritious and flavorful. Your friends and family will appreciate your efforts.

    Ingredients:
    2 medium eggplants (peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes)
    3 medium yellow bell peppers (sliced thin)
    6 firm plum tomatoes (chopped)
    1 medium yellow onion (chopped)
    2 cloves garlic (peeled and minced)
    ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
    ½ teaspoon saffron
    ½ teaspoon paprika
    1 teaspoon turmeric
    ½ teaspoon ground ginger
    ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
    ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
    ½ teaspoon lemon zest (chopped fine)
    ¼ teaspoon allspice
    ¼ teaspoon caraway seeds
    ½ teaspoon cumin
    ¼ teaspoon mace
    ¼ teaspoon cloves
    ½ teaspoon nutmeg
    1 cup vegetable broth
    1 teaspoon harissa paste (plus more in a small bowl at the table as condiment)
    Salt and pepper to taste
    6 large eggs
    ½ cup chopped parsley (in a small bowl at the table for garnish)
    ¼ cup toasted pine nuts (in a small bowl at the table for garnish)
    6 lemon wedges (in a small bowl at the table for garnish)

    Photo: Randy Graham, Valley Vegetarian

    Directions:
    Combine eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a 3 ½ quart tagine or Dutch oven. Add olive oil and the next 14 ingredients (saffron through nutmeg) stirring gently to combine. Pour in broth and gently stir to combine.

    Place tagine in a cold oven and then set heat for 300 degrees. Allow to cook, uncovered. Open the oven to gently stir two times during this slow cook process. After 2½ hours, remove from oven and stir in harissa. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Form shallow wells among vegetables in the tagine. Break 1 egg into each well. Season with salt, if desired, and return to oven to bake uncovered for 12 minutes (or until egg whites are set).

    To serve, bring the dish (be careful; it’s very hot) to the table, allowing friends/family to spoon what they want onto their plates and then garnish as desired with parsley, pine nuts, lemon and additionally, (if they dare) piquant harissa.



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