When I heard about The Egg Award 2013 via twitter I decided I'd be a complete fool not to enter a recipe. After all 2013 is the year that I published an entire cookbook devoted to seasonal egg recipes.
A Good Egg - a year of recipes from an urban hen keeper (Eden Project Books, 2013) charts a year of egg cookery in my Bristol kitchen. Passionate about seasonal eating, the book is organised as an edible diary, with around 2-3 entries per week, each recipe containing eggs in some form or other. Some are not necessarily very egg-rich - a Christmas prune and rabbit pate for example just uses a single egg, whereas Pasteis del Nata (exquisite Portuguese custard tarts) are more what you'd call classically eggy. The point was that I had a seemingly endless supply of eggs and I simply had to get through them.
The eggs I use come from my 'girls', 3 sturdy hybrid bluebell hens that share my back garden along with my husband, two boisterous young kids, 2 dogs and 2 cats. With all of us vying for space it can get a little busy out there but generally we all get along rather well. As a passionate gardener of both edible and ornamental plants I have spent rather a long time planning and adapting our space so that we can all pretty much rub along harmoniously.
With the girls providing me with 2-3 truly delicious eggs a day, all year round, I was never short of a reason to experiment with them. Eggs, I think, are one of natures absolute wonder ingredients - a perfect package of protein, nutrients and great flavour that is so utterly versatile it beggars belief.
People often ask me why I wanted to keep chickens in my garden and the answer is somewhat multifaceted. It started with a simple and enduring love of animals - as a child entering my teenage years I passionately wanted to be a vet, until my physics teacher told me quite plainly one day that I wasn't bright enough. I know, how appalling is that? I often think of him, a weasily bald-headed, miserable thin bearded man and how much I would love to be able to tell him I went on to get a first class degree in Biology from Manchester University. F-him I say. I digress. Cooking then is another lifelong passion - I love the creativity of it, the smells, the colours, the way I can let my imagination run wild as I dream up new recipes. The way peoples faces light up when I offer them something delicious to eat. My other great love is gardening, that connection to the soil, the feeling of mud under your finger nails, the dozen scratches up my forearms from pruning my rambling rose, the joy of unearthing the garlic I've been nurturing since the winter.
I guess chicken keeping is a natural culmination of all the things I love most - that and the desire for my children, Izaac aged 8, and Eve aged 5, to feel a connection to the land that I adore. And I'm not alone, with some estimates suggesting there are getting on for a million people keeping chickens in their back gardens.
During the course of writing the book I blogged some of my recipes to kind of test the waters as to what people really want from the humble egg. Looking back over my blog, it was very, very easy for me to pick my entry to The Egg Award 2013. One post was overwhelmingly popular, receiving tenfold more hits than the next most popular. So here, egg lovers the world over, is my entry..........
27th January - Baghdad eggs with herb yogurt & pitta crisps
These spiced fried eggs make for a really fresh and interesting brunch dish and they are welcome change from the more usual scrambled or poached. Eggs go so well with herbs and spices and this recipe uses both in abundance.
Pitta crisps are easy and delicious, and so useful that I often make a double or even treble batch. They store brilliantly in an airtight tin for a week or so and are great with all manner of dips or just for snacking on when you feel peckish. So much tastier and healthier than reaching for a bag of regular crisps. I normally add chilli flakes as I can’t resist the opportunity to spice them up a bit them but do leave them off if you prefer.
for the pitta crisps:
3 pitta breads
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
for the herb yogurt:
160g greek yoghurt
a generous handful of mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped (coriander, mint, parsley & chives are all great)
a little salt & freshly ground black pepper
for the Baghdad eggs:
2 tsp cumin seeds
50g unsalted butter
a splash of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp paprika
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Slice the pittas into 3cm wide strips and peel apart the 2 layers of each strip. Lay in a single layer on a baking tray, drizzle over the olive oil and scatter on the cumin seeds, chilli flakes and a generous seasoning of flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until completely dry and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack
Make the yoghurt sauce by stirring through the herbs and seasoning to taste with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon onto two plates and set aside.
In a large frying pan, dry fry the cumin seeds for just a minute or so. As soon as you smell their aroma lifting from the pan tip them into a pestle and mortar and grind coarsely . Add the butter to the pan, along with a little drizzle of olive oil to help prevent it burning. When it has melted and starts foaming, stir through the garlic, paprika and ground cumin and fry for a couple of minutes. Then crack in the eggs, and fry, basting in the spiced butter until they are cooked to your liking.
When the eggs are cooked use a fish slice to lift them out onto the serving plates, two per person, and drizzle over the butter. Serve immediately, with the pitta crisps to dunk in both the yolk and the herby yogurt.