Guest Chef Edwina Golombek, from The House of Fusion, the residential culinary riad and cooking school, in Marrakesh, shared her Moroccan Berber omelette when she presented her Moroccan cooking classes here last year. It is also known in Morocco as Shakshuka. Originating in the deserts of North Africa, this omelette is served anytime of the day, and is often cooked up in a cast iron pan or tagine. The Berber omelette tagine frequently makes and appearance on menus in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Edwina is my friend and colleague who hosts our Moroccan Culinary Tours, Morocco Beyond the Bay, in her House of Fusion riad.
My shakshuka which we also make in the Mediterranean – Touch of Spice cooking class, is the Israeli Shakshuka, claiming to be originally from Jerusalem. It is slightly different and is made with red and yellow capsicums as well as onions, garlic and tomatoes. The Mediterranean countries nearby to Morocco also have their own take on this Berber omelette, with versions made in their own style. The French Basque down south in France, make the pipérade, the Spanish make the Spanish omelette, the Italian peperonata. There is even a Marrakesh meatball dish made in a similar way, with the tomato base and eggs, plus the meatballs.
The Berber omelette is a spicy dish featuring eggs poached in a tasty sauce made of tomatoes, onions, spices and peppers. There are countless recipes for this dish as there are versions of pasta sauces in Italy.
Berber is a term that comes from the Roman word for “barbarian” and today refers to a very large group of people from North Africa, living in a space that spans from the Atlantic Ocean to the Nile River. Now concentrated in Morocco and Algeria, this group is generally regarded as desert nomads and is comprised of numerous languages and ethnic groups. Berbers call themselves ‘i-Mazigh-en’ meaning free people. Much of the population of North Africa is less Arabic and more Berber, particularly when you venture out from the cities.
For an authentic Middle Eastern experience, cook your Berber omelette in one main dish, such as a tagine, for sharing, and pair it with focaccia, crusty bread or pita.
Berber omelette tagine with tomato jam
Serves 8 – 10
Tomatoes, onions, cumin, sweet red paprika, pepper, ras el hannout and saffron are to be found in almost all Moroccan savoury dishes and this one is no exception. The tomato jam is cooked in tagine and when ready, the eggs are added and forked over, to form a lid. It makes a wonderful breakfast, brunch, side dish, lunch or supper dish.
½ piece of mace, crushed
½ tsp lemon anise
1 large red onion
1 head of garlic
½ tbsp sweet red paprika
1 tbsp cumin
3 tbsp sugar
2 star anise
1 tsp ras el hannout
½ tsp cinnamon
5 coriander seeds
½ tsp fine black pepper
½ tsp ground ginger
10 tomatoes olive oil to cover the bottom of the tagine finely chopped parsley to garnish
8-10 eggs for the omelette
For the tomato jam
This may be made in a heavy bottomed saucepan or a heavy tagine base. Break and crush the mace into small pieces. Grind the lemon anise in your palms, until the aroma wafts. Finely slice the onion into semi-circles and then chop. Take the knob of garlic, break into individual cloves, flatten, peel and roughly chop.
Pour enough olive oil into the tagine to cover the base well. Place all the ingredients, except the tomatoes, into the tagine, place, over a diffuser, on a low heat and caramelise, until everything begins to stick to the sides but not the bottom; this could be 15 minutes or so.
Peel the tomatoes with the potato peeler, remove the stem. Chop 6 of them into brunoise, tiny cubes; add to the
pan. Grate the remaining 4 tomatoes and add to the pan also; cook stirring constantly. Reduce for about half an hour to three quarters of an hour depending on how juicy the tomatoes are. We are looking for a passata type sauce. Total cooking time is between 1 – 1 ½ hours, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes.
This tomato jam may be served warm, as a condiment, an accompaniment or as the base of something else. It may be stored in the fridge for a few days and freezes very well.
For the Berber omelette
Carefully break 8 – 10 eggs around the edge of the tagine. When the whites just begin to set, fork the whites and the yolks across the jam, being careful not to dig into the jam; the aim is for the egg to form a lid. Place a lid over the tagine so it rests on the top edge of the tagine and not on the rim where the tagine lid would rest. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes, until the egg lid is set.
Dust with sweet red paprika and sprinkle with finely chopped coriander. Also dollop a few teaspoons of labneh around the top prior to serving.
The Moroccan eat this directly from the tagine with small pieces of bread or it is cut with an egg slice to serve individually.