Shakshouka is spicy, comforting Middle Eastern dish. With the added richness of a poached egg, the garlicky tomato dish becomes a treat for all ages. Easily adjusted to fit any dietary restriction, it will quickly become a well-guarded family recipe.
When I came home from college, I decided that the first food on the docket was something warm and filling. I needed comfort food after months of dining hall options (although Sodexo food is significantly better than my mother’s “home cooking”). One food that instantly came to mind was ramen—then I remembered that homemade ramen is a little out of my league. Part of the immense appeal of ramen (beyond the amazing broth and noodles) is the poached egg. A poached egg is intimidating and fussy; it’s also luxurious and a lovely welcome back gift to myself. I thought of the dish “shakshouka,” a food I had encountered in Israel a few years back. Shakshouka at the most basic level is a spicy tomato sauce freckled with poached eggs, but this dish has complex origins and spices that turn it into a rich meal for any time of day.
Shakshouka is believed to have roots in North African, although my Turkish uncle reminded me that, like most everything, the dish is similar to one served in Turkey with a similar sauce and scrambled egg called menemen. Others compare it to huevos rancheros, a Mexican breakfast dish that includes a fried egg, tortilla, and salsa. Although this tomato egg dish has become a staple in Israel, it’s believed to have origins in Tunisia. Some believe Sephardic Jews brought the dish to Israel. Sephardim are the lesser talked about Jews originally from Spain and Portugal, rather than Central/Eastern Europe (the Ashkenazim), who migrated into the Middle East. Tunesian Jews may have brought this dish with them when the came to Israel, but, like the origins of many foods, it is difficult to say who is the first to claim this dish and who it belongs to. Instead, focus on the taste of this dish that has become a staple of Israeli comfort food and the best-kept secret of the Middle East.
The sauce is made of tomato, garlic, hot peppers, and cumin cooked down into a rich tomato sauce with a kick. There are endless debates about what other ingredients belong: onions, spices, red pepper, harissa, etc. Part of the fun of this dish is making it your own, adding ingredients that you love and experimenting with the sauce. Once you’ve added a secret blend of spices and your signature amount of garlic, crack eggs directly into the pan and cook the simmering sauce for eight to ten minutes to create a tomato sauce with a garlicky, spicy kick enriched by rich and silky egg yolks. The beauty of this dish is that it doesn’t matter who created it, what matters is how you change it and make it your own.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 large red peppers (finely chopped)
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin
4-6 ripe tomatoes chopped, about 4 cups*
Optional Additions: 1 small red chilli pepper (minced, to taste) or 2 tbsp harissa, 1 medium onion (finely chopped), saffron, smoked paprika, chili powder
*I prefer a mix of fresh and canned tomatoes to cut down on the work while still getting the taste of fresh tomato.
Final note: If there are any vegans in your party, consider setting some of the sauce aside and adding some chickpeas for a filling and dietary restriction filled party. This recipe is both gluten and lactose free, parve, and vegan adaptable–basically perfect for a group of picky eaters.
Begin by heating the oil in a large skillet (I would recommend non-stick because the sauce is very acidic for a cast-iron). If you decide to include onion, add to the skillet with the garlic and sautee until golden before adding in all other ingredients except tomatoes. If you skip the onion, sautee the garlic, tomato paste, spices, peppers, and spices over medium high heat until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally for roughly ten minutes.
Add tomatoes to the pan and simmer for an additional fifteen minutes until mixture is thick and not too watery. After the tomato mixture reaches a thicker consistency, make dips throughout the mixture for the eggs. Crack each egg into a dip very carefully without breaking the yolk. Swirl the whites into surrounding tomato mixture and allow dish to cook eight to ten minutes until white is cooked and yolk is still runny (poaching the egg).
Remove from heat, where egg will continue to carry-over cook, meaning the heat of the pan and sauce will keep cooking the dish. Serve each person an egg and tomato sauce, allowing each person to break the yolk himself or herself, if possible. To stretch the meal, add pita to make it more filling. Enjoy!