And, now, I bring you this week's installment of "Food I Ate in Sydney!"
I should really be done talking about this but nope, the saga continues...
Actually, up top, that should probably read "Brought to you by haloumi." Haloumi is A THING with the Aussies. They love it. And I love them for it because I, too, love me some salty cheese that somehow manages to brown and soften but never melt. This dairy witchcraft means you can grill it, fry it, and here, plop it into your cooked tomatoes, and it will never melt into a shapeless, oozy blob. I mean yes, sometimes that is what I want out of my cheese but then sometimes I want it to retain it's structure, and haloumi is the cheese for that.
I hope I am not introducing shakshuka to you for the first time, but if so, let me be the one to welcome you to this glorious tomato stew full of peppers and heat and spice. It's a Middle Eastern wonder often found at breakfast, and I fell in love with it when I lived in Israel.
Except for one thing.
It is often a breakfast dish because it is most usually served with a few eggs poached right in the sauce, and if you are a lover of undercooked egg yolks, I hear the combination of runny egg, tomato, and a scooping utensil crafted out of pita bread is one to sing praises about. If, however, like me, the idea of runny egg yolk in your food makes you gag, actually enjoying your breakfast shakshuka can be a bit, well, difficult. My solution was always to order it anyway and hope for some "overcooked" eggs or else eat around the yolks, but really, I was just missing out of the full potential of the dish, and it's a frustrating experience to play Russian Roulette with your breakfast eggs. It usually ends about as cleanly as Russian Roulette.
This is all why, when I stumbled into a cafe hidden away in the heart of The Rocks, one of Sydney's oldest and most cutely cobblestoned neighborhoods, I noted the shakshuka on the menu but almost immediately resigned myself to ordering something else.
There it was.
A list of possible toppings for my shakshuka, including a poached egg, of course, but also giving me the option of haloumi instead! I think I audibly gasped. It was so genius! And when my shakshuka arrived to my table one a beautiful board with sourdough toast stacked four high and a pot of butter to go with, I was blessing those Aussies for their instinct to put haloumi on everything (and to serve everything on boards). We can definitely be friends.
And as for the dish? I didn't miss the egg at all, and the salty, soft haloumi piled with tomato on a slice of that sourdough was like the best open-faced grilled cheese/tomato soup mash up ever. Combined with the pot of tea I enjoyed with it and a seat with a view of sunny, cobblestoned historical alleys, my mood shot so high into the stratosphere I found myself full on dancing in my seat to the 80's tunes they were cranking in the place, blissfully unaware of or unconcerned with my fellow diners.
Don't you want that too?
Shakshuka with Haloumi
Shakshuka adapted from Jerusalem. I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh since it's winter, but if you make this during tomato season feel free to sub with fresh.
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 tbs harissa
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 2 large red bell peppers, diced small
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- Three 14 oz cans diced tomatoes
- 6-8 oz haloumi, sliced thick
- caper berries, for garnish
- slices of good crusty bread, for serving
- butter, for serving
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add harissa, tomato paste, peppers, garlic, cumin, paprika, and 3/4 tsp salt. Cook for about 8 minutes, until peppers are softened, stirring frequently.
- Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, season with salt, and cook another 10 minutes until thickened.
- Remove from the heat and preheat your oven's broiler. Top the shakshuka with slices of haloumi and set under the broiler until golden. Toast bread under the broiler (if desired) while haloumi is browning.
- To serve, transfer shakshuka to bowls and garnish with caper berries. Serve with the bread and butter for dipping.