Editor’s note: Keren Zucker, a graphic designer at The Ellsworth American, grew up in Israel’s southern desert town of Arad. Like many Israeli mothers, Ariela Zucker made the popular tomato-based egg dish Shakshuka for her husband, Chuck, and daughters Keren, Yael, Tal and Leora. In 2001, the Zuckers moved to the United States and eventually to Ellsworth, where they own the Twilite Motel, but the tradition of Shakshuka lives on.
By Keren Zucker
Shakshuka… It’s more than just a funny word.
To anyone who knows Hebrew, Shakshuka (pronounced shahk-SHOO-kah) means mixed or shaken up. The word evokes the aroma of one of the most popular breakfast dishes in the Middle East.
Shakshuka is the Israeli version of the bright, spicy dish that consists of eggs poached atop a bed of stewed tomatoes and sautéed onion and red bell peppers. The comfort food is thought to have originated in North Africa, but it caught on and has become a breakfast tradition in households throughout the Middle East.
In Israel, where I was born and and spent most of my childhood, Shakshuka can be found on the menu of most restaurants and cafes. This versatile dish is most popular as a breakfast option yet is hearty enough to be served for lunch, or dinner. It is always accompanied with a hunk of fresh bread to wipe up the tomato sauce.
One of the wonderful things about Shakshuka is how simple it is to make and its versatility. Don’t be afraid to make additions and substitutions. Give it your own twist!
To start, you will need a large skillet, deep enough to keep tomato sauce from splattering your stovetop. A tight-fitting lid also is required during the poaching process.
A fresh vegetable salad is a great addition to serve alongside the Shakshuka and really helps to make it a complete meal.
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
Heaping teaspoon minced garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sweet paprika
Cayenne, to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped. Or, about 4 cups fresh tomatoes cut into small chunks.
Feta cheese, crumbled (about 1¼ cups)
6 large eggs
Minced cilantro, for garnish
Heat the olive oil in the skillet and sauté the onions with the bell pepper for about 15-20 minutes. You want the bell pepper to get very soft and the onion to get nice and brown, but make sure the veggies don’t burn.
Add the garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add the spices, and the salt and pepper, and give the mixture a good stir.
Add the tomatoes and their juice and cook until the mixture has thickened. The cooking time will vary depending on whether canned or fresh tomatoes are used, but should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
Once the tomatoes have thickened, taste and adjust your seasonings if needed. Add a cup of the feta cheese and stir to incorporate.
You are now ready to add the eggs. With a spoon, make a little well or indent in the tomato mixture, one for each egg. This will keep the eggs a little more contained while they are cooking rather than having them spread over the entire pan. It also makes for a nice presentation when served.
Once all your eggs are in the pan, cover and simmer on low heat until they are cooked to your liking. Cooking times for the eggs will vary. For firm whites and runny yolks about 10 minutes should do. If you like your yolks firm, give it a few more minutes, just keep checking and remove from the heat when they are.
When finished cooking, sprinkle the remaining feta, and a handful of chopped cilantro. Serve immediately, and don’t forget the bread!
Bete’avon (Bon appétit!).