On How I Doctor My Shakshuka

And now for something completely delicious. I’ve posted photos of the shakshuka that I make for Ryan and me every Sunday morning for months now on Facebook.  Besides asking what the heck shakshuka is, friends have also asked how I make mine. So I figured it would be nice to answer both questions, finally, on my blog.

When I first began my Jewish journey (more than two years ago, now), I tested the waters of keeping kosher by replacing treif-based meals with more appropriate ones. So out went mixing milk and meat, along with pork and shellfish, and off I went exploring kosher Jewish (generally) and Israeli (specifically) dishes.

Last year, a few months after I completed my conversion, Ryan and I had a thoughtful discussion about why we choose or don’t choose to keep kosher, and for reasons explained in this linked post, I decided to go back on the pig. But most of the foods I’d learned to cook–and love–in the interim stuck around. Especially shakshuka.

Briefly, shakshuka is eggs poached in a thick and spicy tomato-pepper sauce, and is one of the most popular breakfast (and especially brunch!) items in Israel. Think of it as an Israeli huevos rancheros, or kind of like Israel’s answer to bacon and eggs (which is why I started making it.)

Or maybe it isn’t. Shakshuka’s popularity also  makes it very controversial–runny eggs or hard eggs? Red peppers or no red peppers? Onions or no onions? Shiny or not shiny? Israeli cuisine or North African cuisine?

My answer to all of that is: Who cares? The dish is so versatile and so good, better to shut up, make it, and enjoy it, than to argue over who makes it best or who made it first. You can Google shakshuka for more background and many (many) other recipes.

My gold standard is Jaffa’s Dr. Shakshuka, generally considered the best purveyor of the dish in all of Eretz Israel. That means I make it really spicy and really thick. But we’re also partial to onions and peppers together, and (horrors!) totally firm, hard-cooked eggs. So here’s how I make it (with photos.) Now, to paraphrase Hillel, go in your kitchen and learn!

Mike Doyle’s Shakshuka

Serves two to four, depending on your appetite and your eggs. Also, you’re a big boy/girl. I’m not going to tell you when to stir. If it smells like it’s burning, you should have stirred it. So stir occasionally throughout, you know?

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. harissa
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 generous handful spicy paprika
  • 1 generous handful cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce*
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 handful fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

(*Note: Yes, canned tomato sauce. Here’s the deal: if you have a few hours to spend cooking down your sauce to a stew-thick consistency, you can be completely shakshuka-authentic by using canned or fresh whole tomatoes, squishing them in a bowl by hand, and cooking down the sauce for a few hours. If you do that, make a lot and freeze half so your life is easier the next time you make it. I love having kitchen time like that, but I usually find myself wanting shashuka A.S.A.P. on a Sunday morning–which is probably how most shakshuka begins in the first place. So, canned sauce and on with the brunch.)

1. Shakshuka is supposed to be shiny. So in a large pan on medium heat I start with four generous turns of the pan with EVOO. Then I add a fifth. Seriously. Shiny.

2. When it’s fragrant but not smoking, I toss in the harissa, red pepper flakes, minced garlic, and spices. We like our shakshuka spicy and pungent with paprika and cumin, so by handful I mean handful.

3. As the garlic just begins to color, I toss in the onions and let them sweat down a bit.

4. Then I toss in the red pepper, and season the aromatics with salt and pepper, and let them sweat down a good five minutes more together so they get tender and absorb all the flavor from the spice-infused oil. (This is where shakshuka can get really creative, too. I’m jonesing to do an umami-ish mushroom shakshuka, and the fungi would replace or add to the aromatics here.)

5. At this point, you can decide whether your shakshuka is on a fast track or a slow track. If slow, by all means replace the tomato sauce with a medium can of good, whole tomatoes (that you crush in a bowl by hand before adding), or run a few of your fresh Italian sauce tomatoes of choice through a mill and add those. IF however you’re having one of my usual weekend mornings, act without shame and add in the canned tomato sauce.

Either way, follow up your tomatoes with the tomato paste, lower heat, and cover. Simmer those crushed tomatoes for a couple of hours, or simmer your quick canned sauce version for about 10 to 15 minutes. (Get it now?)  You’re looking for a thickest-sauce-you’ve-ever-made, “pea-soup-out-of-the-refrigerator-the-next-morning” consistency.

6. Once you get there, you can reserve some or all of your sauce, cool it, and freeze it for use later. Or just plow ahead and add your eggs. I usually add 6 eggs (it’s what fits best in my go-to pan and gives us an ample meal for two with a couple of eggs with sauce leftover for the next morning. You know, for one of us…) But feel free to let your appetites, your pan size, and your number of available eggs guide you.

7. I like to pierce the egg yolks with a fork to get them to spread out a little in the sauce. Some people don’t. Some people pierce and smear the yolks so the sauce is topped completely with jumbled egg. I say eww to the last strategy, but do what sounds nom-nommish to you.

8. I love (love) to add lots of feta cheese at this point. Again, another of the many elements of shakshuka controversy. But it works very well, so I remain unapologetic.

9. Finally, I toss some green herbs on top. Usually Italian parsley. (Perfection!) Sometimes taragon. (Shades of a Julia Child baked chicken.) Chervil I’ll never attempt again. If dried, I sprinkle them on now. If fresh, I wait until the dish comes off the heat and add them at the end.

10. Next, another of the many decision points of shakshuka. (They’re what make it so interesting to make and enjoy!) To wit: How do you like your eggs? And do you want to finish the dish on the stove top or in the oven, with a potential run under the broiler? Traditional shakshuka is topped with barely poached eggs with just-firm whites and soft or runny yolks and is finished covered in a hot (350) oven for five minutes or so.

Like I said, we like our whites and yolks solid. Like, Easter Egg solid. So I opt for 15 minutes covered on the stove-top over medium-low heat. Either way, depending on what’s on top of your shakshuka (especially certain cheeses), after the time in or on top of the oven, you could finish by running your shakshuka under a broiler. Or not. (I don’t.)

11. That’s pretty much that. Bring to table. Serve from pan you cooked it in. Accompany with fresh pita or leftover homemade challah from Shabbat. (As you might guess, since I usually bake challah for Shabbos every week, our option is the latter.)

Our beverages of choice are orange juice or mimosas (this is serious brunch food, after all) and coffee. Now, as Nigella Lawson might say, lift fork and apply to face.

For full disclosure, especially to Facebook friend Jared Lojeck, that’s non-U.S. market Nescafe instant in my (handmade Lisboa artisan) blue coffee mug, above. The only thing that might make this meal better for me is if a Tel Aviv beach were beckoning beyond the balcony–or mixing metaphors, maybe Lisbon’s Costa do Estoril.

Who needs the sun, though? Either way, I’d be eating in a beachfront cafe.

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