Shock your taste buds with Shakshuka!
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
If you are not yet familiar with this deliciously spicy dish, then you are really missing out. Shakshuka is a savory meal consisting of poached eggs nestled in a thick, stewed tomato and pepper sauce. This is already a very popular breakfast, brunch, or lunch meal in the Middle East and in Northern Africa, quickly picking up speed in Europe and slowly trickling into the USA. The beauty of it is that it is inexpensive, flavorful, and nutritious. Along with several other dishes, I learned of this tasty meal while in Israel. Although it did not originate there, the Israelis are crazy about it! I started making Shakshuka at home and now my family is crazy about it, too. It is similar to another popular Israeli dish, called Matbucha, the difference being that the matbucha is cooked much longer and is therefore thicker. Also, matbucha is typically served cold or at room temperature as a dip, whereas shakshuka is served hot and has poached eggs in it. I recommend serving BOTH, however, with plenty of warm, crusty bread so that you can sop up every drop of that delectable sauce!
Shakshuka (and Matbucha) actually originated in the Maghreb, well before Israel was even established. This is the region of Northwest Africa consisting of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya ... essentially, the North African coastal countries lying to the west of the Nile. In fact in Tunisian Arabic, the word shakshuka means "a haphazard mixture". The recipe truly is 'a mixture' of ingredients, in this case vegetables and eggs. When Jewish immigrants from Northern Africa arrived in Israel in the 1950s, they brought this recipe with them, as they found it to be very affordable and hearty at a time of financial constraints. It didn't take long for the Israelis to adopt this.
Many variations can be made to this dish with the additions of feta cheese, parmesan cheese, goat cheese, eggplant, artichoke hearts, lentils, chickpeas, potatoes, chorizo, sausage, or other meats. With these variations, the dish becomes recognizable in Spain (pisto manchego), Italy (ova 'mpriatorio), Turkey (menemen), Mexico (huevos rancheros), Egypt, and beyond. I will show you how to make a Basic Shakshuka (and Matbucha). However, there are even variations on the basic shakshuka, as I have reviewed and tried several recipes. Some call for onions, others don't. Some add tomato paste, others don't. Some add cumin, others don't. Some add harissa, others jalapenos, and still others serrano peppers. I have experimented with different variations and have settled on this one. It is easy. It is delicious. It works for me! I encourage you to give it a try.
3 red peppers
1 jalapeno pepper
2 x 28 oz cans Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1+ tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp cumin
sugar, to taste, about 1 Tbsp
2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
2 tsp salt, to taste
2 tsp black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
Blacken the red peppers and the jalapeno pepper on a stove burner. once blistered and turned black, remove from the heat and place into a plastic Ziplock bag. Leave until cool.
Once cooled, take out of the bag, remove skin and dice the peppers.
In a dutch oven warm the olive oil and add the minced garlic. Cook for 1 min until fragrant and then add the diced red peppers and the jalapeno pepper, the diced tomatoes (with the juice), the chili flakes, the cumin, the sugar, the sweet paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix well and cook on medium for about 5 minutes. Taste and then adjust the sugar, salt, or spiciness, according to your desired level of seasoning. Then simmer on low until it reduces a bit, another 20-30 minutes.
If making Shakshuka: Ladle some of the sauce (after about 20-30 min of the low simmer) into individual hot cast-iron skillets or a large hot frying pan. Make little dips in the sauce with a spoon and crack eggs, one at a time, directly into each dip. You can usually fit about 2 eggs in a small cast-iron skillet (for individual serving) or 6-8 eggs in a large frying pan (for a family serving). Using a fork, gently swirl the egg whites a bit with the sauce, being careful not to disrupt the yolks. Cover with lid until the whites set, but the yolks are still runny. This will take about 5-8 minutes. Then it is ready to serve. You can garnish with some chopped parsley and serve with labneh or yogurt. Most importantly don't forget the warm crusty bread or warm pita!
I usually start cooking this recipe in a Dutch oven and then transfer a portion of it to cast-iron skillets to make Shakshuka, while leaving the remainder in the Dutch oven to continue to reduce. This allows me to make a batch of Matbucha at the same time. The Matbucha can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week, or frozen for later enjoyment. The quantities in this recipe above allow for that. If you desire to only make Shakshuka, then you can make the entire dish in a large frying pan, from start to finish. (The above quantity feeds 6 people)
If making Matbucha: Continue to simmer the sauce, covered, in the Dutch oven on low for about 2-3 hours. The sauce will really thicken. Remove from heat and let cool before serving. (Tip: Dipping either bread or challah in particular, into Matbucha and then topping it with a bit of tahini sauce, makes it EXTRA special!)
I want to share with you two amazing cookbooks that I frequently refer to and absolutely LOVE when combing Israeli and Arabic recipes. The first is 'Jerusalem' by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I love that this book is co-authored by both Jewish and Arabic chefs originally from Jerusalem. Aside from providing authentic recipes from the region; the book is chock full of Jerusalem history, culinary history, and loaded with beautiful photos of foods, spices, the old souk, and the city of Jerusalem. It is a joy to page through it. A second book that I love and often refer to is named 'Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking', by Michael Solomonov. This chef was born in Israel and raised in Pittsburgh, but lived back and forth during his younger years. He now lives in Philadelphia where he has an upscale Israeli restaurant, named Zahav, which I cannot wait to try! If his restaurant is anything like his cookbook, then I will be in for a TREAT! Each of these cookbooks offers its own variation on Shakshuka.
Without a doubt I have learned many amazing recipes during my travels. This dish, however, is probably the one that I have most fully adopted and incorporated into my repertoire. It is spicy, savory, complex in flavor, hearty, nutritious, quick and easy to make. It is a common weekend breakfast meal for my family. If you are unfamiliar with this dish, I urge you to give it a try. Let me know how it worked for you in the comments sections below. If this is a dish that you are already familiar with then I would love to know about places where you have had fantastic Shakshuka. Personally, I have had great Shakshuka at 12 Chairs Cafe in SoHo, NYC. Please drop the restaurant name and the city in the comments below!