These are my fondest memories of visiting this far-off land with a friend raised in this region. On my first journey to the Middle East, my traveling partner’s mother would have an entire spread prepared, ready to be devoured by the whole family each day by two in the afternoon. Labneh—homemade yogurt cheese—was thick and creamy, topped with a generous dose of golden olive oil and za’atar spice. There were plump dates, homemade pickles, and glistening bowls of black olives. Juicy ripe tomatoes, refreshing slices of cucumber, fresh mint, and crisp green onions adorned the table. A warm aromatic bread loaf from the baker down the street sat covered with a pretty cloth, and, in the middle of it at all, was the main attraction, a large pan of shakshuka, its nests of eggs and garden greens interspersed with salty bits of feta. As the warmth of the summer invaded the veranda of the place where I was staying, my routine took in morning swims and early evening dunks in the Mediterranean Sea just across the street. In the late afternoon, there was also warm turmeric tea, date-filled cookies, and Malabi, the sweet milk custard, topped with pomegranate syrup and chopped pistachio nuts.
- 1 bunch of leeks about 2 cups, sliced thin and washed well
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves sliced
- 6 cups mixed greens Kale, Swiss chard, and spinach, washed and chopped
- ½ cup fresh cilantro chopped
- ¼ cup fresh dill chopped
- ¼ cup fresh oregano chopped
- 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 8 eggs
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons Za’atar Spice Blend
- Shake the water off the leeks and sauté in olive oil until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Stir in the chopped greens and cook until leaves are wilted, 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the fresh chopped herbs, red chile flakes, nutmeg, salt, and a few grinds of pepper to season.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- In the same sauté pan or an ovenproof casserole dish, create eight nests of greens, and break an egg into each well and top with crumbled feta cheese. Bake for 5-10 minutes, or until eggs are done to your liking. Scatter with za’atar spices and serve immediately.