I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to share my recipe for shakshuka, since it’s a staple in our home, one we make a few times a month, for breakfast and, most often, for dinner. I’m sure you must know about shakshuka, right? Ottolenghi made the dish famous in 2012 with the publication of his cookbook Jerusalem, one that still sits on my kitchen counter among my favorites.
But when I first had shakshuka, in 2011, like most people in America, I had never heard of the dish. Elie and I had just started dating at the beginning of that year, while I was in my dietetic internship at Bastyr. He took a trip with his dad to visit his mother’s family in Israel, and he brought me back a present, an Israeli cookbook. Shakshuka was one of the first dishes I cooked, and I was hooked.
The following year, Elie took me to Israel for the first time. His mother had grown up in the old city of Jerusalem, where seven generations of her family had lived before her. I was enveloped in the hospitality and the boisterous love that is the trademark of an Israeli family. And it was love at first site. You can read about prior trips here, here and here. Since then, I have been back three more times. And this fall, we are taking Theo for the first time.
I’m getting teary as I write this, thinking of taking Theo to visit a country–and a family–with which I have fallen deeply in love. If you’ve been there, perhaps you feel the same. I will leave the essay on Israel for another time, but this land tugs at my heart and draws me in. Because of it’s big-hearted people and its resilience. Because it’s God’s chosen. Because Jesus walked and worked and prayed there. Because when I sit at the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, it is my favorite place on earth. And I cry. Every time. Because I have faith and hope and optimism in the goodness of God and people, and because I feel love there.
But, you came here for a recipe, not a sermon. There is a lot I can say, about how visiting Israel over and over has shaped my faith. About how Elie and I navigate believing differently about God and spirituality. About how we are working together to raise Theo, so he has a strong foundation from where he can make choices about what he believes, and what faith means to his life. It’s all complicated. But it’s all good work.
And then there’s the food. Because the food in Israel is magic.
So for now, here is a recipe. This is the basic version of shakshuka, but you can add to it what you like. I often will sauté cubes of eggplant in way too much olive oil and add those caramelized bits to the sauce, and then add fresh spinach or arugula to wilt at the end. Or, I’ll stir in some cooked chickpeas, slowly braised with tomatoes and garlic, to add some substance to the sauce. And then nestle in some kale, sautéed with lots of olive oil and sliced garlic. I toast my spices in a pan and then grind them with a mortar and pestle, but you can use already ground. You can add feta or goat cheese, or leave it out. But shakshuka is always best served with a soft pita or hearty bread, for breaking the yolks and scooping up the savory sauce.
And speaking of yolks, the eggs are tricky. If you like a cooked white and a runny yolk, you can just poach or fry eggs separately and then nestle them into the sauce when serving. There’s no shame in it. That’s often my choice. It’s difficult to get the perfect egg poached in sauce. Even when you order it in Israel, often the white is not-quite-cooked or the yolk is hard.
But, if you want the authentic experience, try a trick that I learned from Elie’s cousin, Ayelet, who is a personal chef outside Tel Aviv. Once you’ve broken the egg into the sauce, take a spoon or fork and start to spread out the white, scrambling the white into the sauce and allowing it to cook through. This will leave you cooked whites and perfectly custardy egg yolks.
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do. And stay tuned for our next adventure in Israel.
Serves 4 – 6
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced or thinly sliced (I like sliced)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seed, toasted and ground
1 red bell pepper, cut in large dice or sliced (I like sliced)
1 spicy pepper (like a jalapeño), seeded and cut in small dice or pinch of red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
6 organic eggs
6 ounces goat cheese
toasted pumpkin seeds
Heat a large heavy-bottom skillet (not cast iron) over medium heat. The larger the bottom surface area of the skillet, the better.
Add olive oil to the skillet. Add onion, garlic and salt, cooking until onions are translucent. Add red bell pepper and spicy pepper, cooking until peppers begin to soften.
Add all of the spices, ‘frying’ them with the onions, garlic and peppers in the oil.
Crush the whole canned tomatoes with your hands, breaking them into large pieces. Add tomatoes with the juice, and about a cup of water. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Cook at least 30 minutes and preferably an hour or more, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and flavorful. If too much sauce has evaporated (it should be the consistency of pasta sauce), add a little water to thin.
Make six ‘holes’ or indentations in the sauce to hold the eggs. Break the eggs and place them in the holes in the sauce. Take a fork and scramble the white into the sauce, being careful not to crack the yolk. Continue to cook the eggs until the whites are firm but the yolks are custardy in the middle, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and garnish with goat cheese, fresh cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Serve with good bread, for scooping up all that sauce.
Thank you to Matthew Land Studios, for the beautiful photos. And to Matt and Erin, for always being willing taste-testers.