Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things

Jess and I hadn't seen each other since my wedding nearly nine months before, so when she made the suggestion out of the blue that we meet for a light dinner at a new Moroccan restaurant on the Lower East Side because she'd purchased a Groupon for it, I readily agreed. We went to Zerza in the East Village and I ordered merguez sausage in a tomato sauce with poached eggs that was absolutely delicious. Two of D's favorite things are eggs and merguez, so I knew he would love this dish. I found this recipe from a blog called Food52 for the dish and made it at home. We served it with a side of sauteed dandelion greens. The bitter of the greens was tempered by really nice olive oil and garlic, and it was perfect with the spicy tomato sauce. I had two types of harissa on hand: one from our friend Samir who is originally from Tunisia, the other (less hot) from a local Middle Eastern restaurant. If the sauce is spicy enough, you won't even want to use the harissa. The cilantro is really key, though, to cut the heat.

Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, small dice
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 pound merguez sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon ras el hanout*
1 teaspoon Spanish sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 15-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen
8 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro, stems included
2 tablespoons harissa, see note above
warm crusty bread, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden. Toss in the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the merguez and sauté until almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the ras el hanout, Spanish smoked paprika and salt. Stir to combine and cook for a minute to lightly toast the spices. Add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium and cook until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Crack the eggs over the mixture, cover and cook until the whites set, but the yolks are still soft. Divide the eggs and ragout among four warm bowls using a large spoon. Top with a sprinkling of cilantro and a teaspoon of Harissa. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Ras el Hanout is totally simple to assemble if you have all of the spices. Layering the spices into the jar, the end result looks like a North African desert bathed in a sunset. I shook it to combine the spices before using it in the recipe.

Ras El Hanout

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves