Shakshuka (eggs on tomato sauce) is one of those dishes that have made so many rounds on the internet that you’re likely to have seen it elsewhere. Trying it for the first time, on the other hand, makes you wonder just why you haven’t made it before. Such a simple idea, such a great little dish.
Also spelled shakshouka, the name is also used in Arabic to describe any type of mixture. Its origins are a matter of debate, but the most accepted version is that it is of Tunisian origin — it’s also known and loved in Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt — and was brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews. It is a popular breakfast dish, but can also be served for dinner.
It was during my culinary tour of Israel where I first encountered shakshuka outside of a cookbook, or the internet. I just knew I had to write a recipe for it. At least four tests later, I think I got just the perfect one for our readers.
On our third day in Israel we hit the road. I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t see more of Jerusalem, as we mostly stuck to the ancient part of the city, the touristy part; and like many an ancient city crowded with tourists, it had that faint amusement park-like atmosphere that I find slightly off-putting. Stepping into the van I got ready for a new adventure. Is there a better way to see a country than to hit the road?
We headed for the city of Akko (Acre), a couple of hours’ drive from Jerusalem, just to the north of Haifa. Known during the crusades as St. John d’Acre, Akko is one of the longest inhabited spots on the planet, going back to the Bronze Age. Arriving into the port and old market you can see seemingly random layers of the many ages of this city piled up one on top of another, giving it an unfinished look that I surprisingly found very photogenic. It must be my love for textures, and they abound in a corner of the world where ancient stone houses support satellite antennas, and peeling walls make the perfect background for photography.
Sadly, we did not get to see much of the actual city of Akko, where Muslims, Arab Christians, Jews (and even Baha’i) live, each adding their own dishes and foods to the city’s gastronomical landscape. Yet another place that I’d love to revisit with more time.
A few minutes later we met native son Osama Dalal, an up-and-coming chef on the Israeli culinary scene, and with him we embarked on a tour of the city, its market, its history and food. Ah, yes, and a boat trip too. We had our first taste of the city right there by the sea. The rice rolls wrapped in cabbage looked vaguely familiar, and tasted a lot like our niños envueltos. At the end of the tour of the Turkish market, where we did get to try many a local delicacy and were treated to an impromptu cooking demo by the ever-entertaining Osama, we headed for his stall in the market to try his food, a food which is as steeped in tradition as the city itself, and inspired by his family recipes going back centuries.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that in one of those little market stalls I had the best falafel I’ve ever tried. Those “golden balls”, and Osama’s lessons on hummus etiquette were probably worth the trip to Israel.
The short visit to Akko ended to head to Mitzpe Hayamim, an interesting concept hotel and spa that produces most of what it consumes right there on the premises, from cheese to soap to organic vegetables. Perched atop a mountain with million-dollar views, it has immense bedrooms and served the best breakfast we had in Israel. Later that night we ended the day with dinner at Muscat Restaurant with Chef Roy Dekel.
Next morning we were on the road again, this time for a trip to the Biriya Forest with Dr. Uri Meir Chizik, and for a very unique tasting: we were going to forage for edible plants. I left with muddy shoes, pricked by thorny bushes, and more than fascinated with the subject. Luckily we had worked enough of an appetite walking through the forest to thoroughly enjoy one of the most memorable dinners of our visit: Magdalena, a restaurant with some seriously impressive vistas, between the mountains and the shore of Galilee.
There was something vaguely reminiscent of our home cooking in the Arab food cooked up by Chef Zuzu; amidst a sea of dishes we found kibbeh and tabbouleh — which we know as kipe and tipili. It was their mejadra that inspired me to try and write a recipe for it.
There aren’t that many food blogs without a recipe for shakshuka, and here’s mine too. In my defense, it is a great dish, and it’s highly adaptable, with variations ranging from the simple, soupy tomato base, to the vegetable-laden concoction that I favor.
Similar concepts can be found in other cuisines, like the Spanish pisto manchego — possibly brought over by the Muslims who occupied the Iberian peninsula for 800 years.
For my recipe I have gathered inspiration from several versions, and the addition of queso de freir (pan-fried halloumi in the original at MantaRay Restaurant, see photo further above) works so well that I think it should be a permanent addition to shakshukas everywhere.
- Also read: Rice with Lentils and Fried Onions – In Israel, Part 1
- Also read: Eggplant and Eggs Pita Sandwich (Sabich) – In Israel, Part 3
- 1/2 lb of queso de freir (or halloumi) cut into slices
- 5 tablespoons of olive oil
- 3 gloves of garlic , crushed
- 1 large eggplant , diced (about 3 cups)
- 1 bell pepper , diced
- 4 large tomatoes , diced (about 4 cups)
- 1 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon of pepper (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder (optional)
- 6 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
Pat dry the cheese to remove excess moisture.
Heat half the oil over medium heat and pan fry the cheese till it turns a golden color and fry on the other side.
Remove the cheese and let it rest on a paper towel. Add the remaining oil to the pan and add the garlic and eggplant and stir for 30 seconds. Add pepper and tomatoes and mix well. Cook stirring until the tomatoes start releasing liquid. Add tomato sauce and a 1/3 cup of water. Lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are cooked-through but firm (about 4 mins).
Season with salt and pepper and chilli to taste, stir in cumin.
Make small wells in the sauce and gently crack the eggs into them one by one. Cook until the egg white has set but the yolk remains runny.
Sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately with bread on the side.