You say tomato, I say shakshuka

The first time I tried shakshuka was in Tel Aviv at a tiny street-side restaurant near the intersection of Sderot Ben Gurion & Dizengoff. It’s a relatively quaint neighborhood surrounded by beautiful International-style Bauhaus architecture (this 4000+ collection of buildings is known as The White City).

At first spoonful, I was immediately impressed by the simplicity, balance and exploding flavors of this local delicacy. And while it may be an Israeli culinary staple, it is equally enjoyed by Tunisians, Libyans, Algerians and Moroccans alike.

Given its Ottoman origins, it is no surprise that shakshuka’s modern-day counterpart is known as menemen, which I can not wait to try during our Istanbul-bound excursion come September.

A few days before my younger brother’s wedding in nearby Jerusalem, our family and friends were treated to a wonderful reunion near the Old Yafo (Jaffa) harbor.

Sunset over the Mediterranean / Tel Aviv

Following a scenic panoramic boat tour of this ancient city neighboring Tel Aviv, Zara and I decided to wander through its archaic, meandering streets in search of a local beloved gem by the name of Dr Shakshuka.

Dr Shakshuka

Dr Shakshuka, Tel Aviv.

Night had fallen and the serpentine alleys seemed to intertwine with each other, but eventually we found our way to Dr Shakshuka merely by accident. As a matter of fact, we never knew we had actually found Dr Shakshuka until months later since we went in through a back-alley entrance to an outdoor area. Upon entering this semi-chaotic scene, we were welcomed by wonderful savory aromas and roaring cooking fires that intensified the already sweltering temperature of an Israeli summer night; its ambiance was cheerful and enjoyed by many of the local patrons in the midst of celebrating Ramadan.

We ordered from the Tripolitanian-style kosher menu and soon thereafter our table was covered with a plethora of home style dishes ranging in texture, color and flavor; amongst them a sizzling skillet full of this fabulous dish we’d only just been introduced to a few days prior: Shakshuka.

Fast forward a few days and we were lucky enough to find mass quantities of the shakshuka and many other spice mixtures in the spice markets of Jerusalem’s Old City. Needless to say, we didn’t waste any time filling one backpack with this and many other spices so we could recreate the dish upon returning home.

:)

After a few successful attempts and variations in our own kitchen (including a lamb version pictured below), it seemed like the perfect meal to be prepared for breakfast during one of our most recent camping shenanigans.

Shakshuka can be equally enjoyed for lunch or dinner. Cooked slowly in a cast iron skillet, it is a fantastic dish to break bread over and share amongst friends.
: Jaime

Our friend Dan sporting one of his favorite Ts.

Vegetarian Shakshuka

A variation from The Shiksa in the Kitchen’s recipe:

Servings: 6
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes 

  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1/2 medium brown or white onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-2 green or red bell pepper, chopped, or 2-3 roasted bell peppers
  • ~4 cups of diced tomatoes, or 2 14 oz. cans
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 tsp chili powder (mild)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of sugar (optional)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 6 (chicken or duck) eggs
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)

Step 1

Once you got your coals going, get your ingredients, spices and cooking tools ready. You might be outdoors, but I always recommend getting your mise en place in order. While doing this, place your cast iron skillet on the grill to heat it up.

Step 2

Add the olive oil and once it’s hot enough, place the diced onion on the skillet and sauté for a few minutes until the onions starts to soften. 

Step 3

Try to find a reasonably hot spot on the grill that can resemble medium temperature on your stovetop. This is to avoid overcooking your ingredients. Add the garlic and diced bell pepper, stir momentarily and sauté for about 4 minutes. However, if using peppers that you pre-roasted at home the night before (as in our case) or cooked on the fire pit itself ahead of time, throw them in about two minutes after the garlic has been sprinkled in. 

For this recipe I included the red pepper oil residue gathered once the roasted peppers were done. 

Tip: When roasting peppers in the oven, I generally place a little olive oil on top of them to aid in the process and so they avoid sticking to the pan. Following the roast, I typically save and set aside the oil and juices accumulated at the bottom of the pan as it can be reused in other dishes. Also, once the bell peppers are done, place them inside a brown paper bag, seal the bag shut and let them rest for a while. As they cool it will also make it much easier to peel given the steam generated inside the bag.

Step 4

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and stir briefly with a wooden spoon to mix so they can get to know each other. At this point add the spices and sugar and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Following this, add a dash of salt and pepper to taste and any of the aforementioned spices if you wish to enhance the heat. 

Tip: For this recipe, I did not add fresh chopped tomatoes, but rather, I included a tomato reduction slow-cooked ahead of time in the crock pot. Shown below:

Step 5

Crack the eggs on top of the tomato mixture while spacing them out carefully to avoid running into each other. Before adding them in, I used the same wooden spoon to create tiny craters where the eggs would be dropped. Cover the cast iron skillet with the lid as the eggs will cook over easy for about 10-15 minutes. Whatever you do, do not stir the shakshuka once the eggs go in. 

Check back from time to time to make sure the eggs are not overcooked, but feel free to remove the pan from the fire based on your choice as some people prefer them runnier. Also, bear in mind that as the skillet is still hot as well as the sauce, you may want to remove it earlier anyways if you are going to let the shakshuka sit for a minute or two.

Step 6

Garnish with some chopped parsley and serve with some bread, pita, sautéed potatoes or simple greens. 

L’chaim!

Dr Shakshuka restaurant front photo by Ms Kat.
Spice shop photo by 333Bracket.

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