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North African in origin, hugely popular in Israel, and staining tablecloths and t-shirts all over the Middle East and world at large, shakshuka is exactly the one-pan, bear hug of a dish that we want to eat for breakfast every morning—and then again for dinner every night.
And if you're willing to take creative liberties, it's also one of the most flexible meals around. As Michael Solomonov, chef at Zahav and author of the cookbook by the same name, put it: "Traditionally, you have eggs simmered in a base of stewed tomatoes and peppers, which grow year-round in Israel, but from there you can do whatever you want."
Did he say... "whatever we want"? (Cue maniacal laughter.)
Because while shakshukas share two essential components—1) a spicy and/or acidic sauce that balances out the richness of 2) the eggs that are poached in it—they take different routes to get there.
Consider the spiciness, for example: Ottolenghi's shakshuka gets its heat from harissa, while Saveur's relies on fresh jalapeños or Anaheims. And Chitra Agrawal, author of Vibrant India, takes advantage of the sweet-sour kick of tomato achaar instead.
Recipes may call for canned tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes, or diced tomatoes, or tomato purée, or no tomatoes at all. Some season with ground cumin; others with cumin seed. Some add smoked or sweet paprika, or ground coriander, or dried lime, or Aleppo pepper, or curry powder, or sugar, or garlic, or lemon. Some cook it in skillets, or casseroles, or individual ramekins. Shakshuka can go in the oven or on the stove. ("In a pinch, a space heater will do," says Solomonov.) Some finish with cheese, or herbs, or black olives, or labneh.
The reddest, peppery-est, and chunkiest of the group.
- Supporting role vegetables: onions, bell peppers, garlic
- Seasonings: optional dried lime, sweet paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, sugar
- Tomato?: purée
- Ooh-ahhs and doodads: torn cilantro and sliced serranos, for garnish
- Cooking technique: Once you've cracked in the eggs, cover the pan and cook, over low heat, until the whites are set (5 minutes or so).
The smooth and sweet curried tomato sauce gets fired up with the real star: zhoug!
- Supporting role vegetables: garlic
- Seasonings: Maras pepper, the Yemeni spice mix hawayej or curry powder, lemon juice
- Tomato?: diced (from a can)
- Ooh-ahhs and doodads: zhoug, a herby hot sauce from Yemen made of jalapeños, cilantro, parsley, garlic, coriander, and cumin
- Cooking technique: Blend the tomato sauce 'til smooth, then pour into individual ramekins; crack an egg into each, bake at 350° F for 20 minutes, then scoop them out, and serve with/drown in zhoug
Nary a tomato in sight, this one is hunter green, from a sauce made of blanched chard leaves that are blended with herbs, spices, olive oil, and ice cubes.
SupportingStarring role vegetables: chard, onions
- Seasonings: toasted caraway seeds, cumin, cilantro, serrano chile
- Tomato?: You won't find one here.
- Ooh-ahhs and doodads: dill and harissa powder or Aleppo pepper, for garnish
- Cooking technique: Separate the chard leaves and stems; chop up the stems, sauté them with the chopped onion, then add the leaves, which you've blanched and puréed; crack in the eggs and bake at 325° F for 20 to 25 minutes
To create your own shakshuka, follow these loosey-goosey guidelines:
1. Sauté and spice: Any vegetables that you want silky and soft should get a head start before you add the sauce. Cook any member of the onion family, garlic, peppers, chard stems and other vegetables with a bite in olive oil, butter, or a mix. Now's also the time to add spices and seasonings: cumin, coriander, paprika, curry powder, cayenne, harissa, garam masala, dried oregano, tomato paste. (You could also sear crumbles of sausage, like Moroccan merguez, at this stage!)
2. Simmer the sauce: If you'd like a traditional dish, add tomatoes in your favorite form (canned—whole, diced, or puréed—or fresh) and make the sauce that tastes best to you (maybe that would welcome a splash of coconut milk or heavy cream). Or take a shortcut: Kendra Vaculin's shortcut method starts with marinara (use your favorite jar!); similarly, Ina Garten's vodka sauce would make an outrageous base.
Alternatively, go green! You could follow Sqirl's lead, or go out on your own—perhaps your future holds zucchini butter or tomatillo shakshuka? Simmer until the sauce is concentrated in flavor and thick enough to support those eggs.
3. Any delicate greens now! Because you don't want that spinach to get slimy.
4. Crack in the eggs (and cook 'em): Make divots, crack the eggs into each one, and cook until set. You can achieve this in the oven (325° to 350° F for 20 to 25 minutes) or on the stove.
Some recipes suggest you cover the pan to help the whites set evenly and quickly, while others say that risks steaming the yolks and instead recommend simmering the shakshuka uncovered for a longer period of time. Ottolenghi gives this tip: "Use a fork to swirl the egg whites a little bit with the sauce, taking care not to break the yolks." And J. Kenji López-Alt suggests basting the egg whites with the sauce to help them cook faster.
5. Garnish: Cheese crumbles, chopped olives, herbs, a drizzle of oil or brown butter, plops of yogurt, chile oil, a squeeze of lemon.
We hope you're feeling excited (not overwhelmed!).
More sauce, more eggs, more downright satisfaction:
What's your favorite way to make shakshuka? Tell us in the comments below!