Libyan food recipes: Shakshuka

If you are not familiar with shakshuka, I am thrilled to introduce the concept to you! Shakshuka is a North African dish that is now popular throughout the Middle East. This easy and healthy egg dish is vegetarian, gluten-free, and incredibly delicious. Shakshuka is one of the first recipes I ever blogged about, and has become one of the most popular posts on my site—a simple vegetarian meal that works as a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or “brinner.”

The shakshuka concept is very simple. Eggs are soft-cooked atop a bed of thick reduced tomato sauce with peppers. In the Maghreb, this chunky sauce is known as matbucha. Similar preparations are made throughout the world, including a popular Italian dish known as “eggs in purgatory.” Shakshuka is somewhat different than the Italian dish; it’s generally spicier and has the addition of peppers.

 

Shakshuka is very popular in Occupied Palestine, where it is often eaten for breakfast. I usually find myself serving it with a side salad as a light evening meal. It’s a versatile vegetarian one-skillet meal that is easy to make, healthy, and addicting.

In Occupied Palestine, the most famous place to eat shakshuka is a restaurant known as Dr. Shakshuka.

The charm of Dr. Shakshuka is evident from the moment you enter. The restaurant is housed in an aging building in the old port city of Jaffa. It’s buzzing all day long with local patrons as well as tourists, everybody eager to taste the “Tripolitanian”-style cooking. The owner Bino Gabso was born to a Libyan family that immigrated to Occupied Palestine in 1949. He’s been serving shakshuka and other north-African favorites to enthusiastic restaurant patrons in Jaffa for the past 18 years.

Dr. Shakshuka is known for its Libyan-style home cooking. It’s a kosher meat restaurant with many traditional Tripolitanian-style dishes including couscous, chrome fish, and kosher merguez sausage


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Of course, they are best known for– what else?– shakshuka. I couldn’t very well

 visit Dr. Shakshuka without ordering their signature dish. For a twist, I ordered it with mushrooms.

The waitress served my shakshuka in a small, sizzling skillet, as is the custom with most of the local Israeli restaurants. Delicious! After you’ve eaten the eggs, it’s customary to scoop up the remaining sauce with a piece of fluffy white bread. The bread at Dr. Shakshuka has a light, spongy consistency making it ideal for this purpose.

Of course, if you’re watching your waistline, gluten intolerant, or serving for Passover, you can leave out the bread; the dish is also wonderful on its own.

I can’t very well write a blog about shakshuka without sharing my own recipe! This is a basic, simple shakshuka spiced just the way I like it. For variety, different ingredients can be added to the tomato base—jalapeños, green chilies, parsley, red pepper flakes, or anything else that sounds tasty to you. I’ve even made it with a spinach/tomato base that turned out great.  Use your imagination!


INGREDIENTS

 

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp mild chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or more to taste (careful, it's spicy!)
  • Pinch of sugar (optional, to taste - omit for low carb)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)

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NOTES

Shakshuka can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For breakfast, serve with warm crusty bread or pita that can be dipped into the sauce (if you are gluten-intolerant or celebrating Passover, skip the bread). For dinner, serve with a green side salad for a light, easy meal.


INSTRUCTIONS

1.    Heat a deep, large skillet or sauté pan on medium. Slowly warm olive oil in the pan. Add chopped onion, and sauté for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add garlic and continue to sauté till the mixture is fragrant.

 

2.    Add the diced bell pepper, and sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium until softened.

3.    Add tomatoes and tomato paste to the pan, and stir until blended. Add spices and sugar, stir, and allow the mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until it starts to reduce.

4.    At this point, you can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences. Add salt and pepper to taste, more sugar for a sweeter sauce or more cayenne pepper for a spicier shakshuka (be careful with the cayenne... it is extremely spicy!).

5.    Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. I usually place 5 eggs around the outer edge and 1 in the center. The eggs will cook "over easy" style on top of the tomato sauce.

6.    Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the sauce has slightly reduced. Keep an eye on the skillet to make sure that the sauce doesn't reduce too much, which can lead to burning.

7.    Some people prefer their shakshuka eggs runnier. If this is your preference, let the sauce reduce for a few minutes before cracking the eggs on top-- then, cover the pan and cook the eggs to taste. Garnish with the chopped parsley, if desired.

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