Shakshuka today, because I am heading to Israel this weekend! The perfect excuse for me to share a delicious simple traditional dish from the Middle East.
I have been working like crazy these last weeks and it seems almost surreal for me to think that in a couple of days I am flying to Israel. I am going there for a wedding and will stay a few more days to explore the surroundings. I have never been really interested in this region before and never felt like going there actually. But sometimes life create the occasion for you and the funny thing is that I am now very excited to discover a new part of the world, learn about the culture, the food traditions of course, and enjoy the warm/hot weather there. Summer vacations already in April, I like it!
But let’s come back to food here. As I was telling you before, I don’t know much about the Jewish food traditions and it’s all new for me. However, there is one dish I have been willing to prepare for quite a while now: the Shakshuka! Just at looking at a picture of this simple dish consisting of tomatoes and poached eggs cooked in a skillet, I am already hungry.
It also reminds me of a dish my mom used to make in Summer when I was longer. Funny thing: it is almost the exact same dish, and the only major difference is that we did not know the name Shakshuka in my family. I remember that we used to prepare the dish (yes, “we”, I was never far from my mom when something was cooking on the stove, I was such a foodie already when I look back!), using very large ripe tomatoes from the garden. I loved the combo tomato-eggs very much, but my favorite part was to mope the sauce with some large slices of French bread. A simple trivial pleasure, but still so good!
So what is exactly what we call a Shakshuka? It is basically a dish consisting of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, with onions, spiced, and cumin, traditionally served in a cast iron skillet. Pretty simple, right? Its origin is a staple of Lybian, Egyptian, Tunisian, Algerian, Moroccan cuisines. It is now popular in Israel, where it was introduced by Libyan and Tunisian Jews, tens of thousands of whom immigrated to Israel during the 1950s. It is now a very popular dish in both the Middle East and North-Africa.
If you ever wondered what shakshuka meant (I did wonder), here’s the answer: in Arabic, shakshuka means “a mixture”. Some believe that it was first known as chakchouka, a Berber word meaning a vegetable ragout, but it remains unclear and there are many other beliefs. Traditional recipes are very basic, consisting of merely of crushed tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic, salt, paprika, olive oil and poached eggs, but some version include other ingredients such as salty cheese – here feta cheese.
The Shakshuka makes a perfect everyday meal but can also be served for breakfast or for brunch. When tomatoes are in season, I recommend you use large fresh ripe tomatoes instead of canned ones, it will be even tastier. Be confident and bring your own twist from time to time, adding some jalapeno slices, spicy sausages, or prosciutto for instance. Whatever option you choose, make sure you serve it with some hot sauce, fresh cilantro and large slices of bread (or any other bread of your choice).
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- ⅛ tsp cayenne
- 1 can (28 oz) whole plum tomatoes with juices, coarsely chopped
- Salt & black pepper
- 1¼ cup (5 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
- 6 large eggs
- Chopped cilantro, for serving
- Hot sauce, for serving
- Heat the oven to 375 F (190 C).
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender. Stir in cumin, paprika and cayenne.
- Pour in tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in crumbled feta.
- Gently crack eggs into skillet over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with hot sauce.