Shakshuka is a beloved and popular dish served all over Israel. Originating in North Africa, it was brought over by Mizrachi Jews in the 50s. Most Shakshuka recipes claim that it’s a simple and easy dish to prepare. It is in fact simple, but using a quickie recipe will deprive one of the complex interplay of flavors that is achievable with a bit of care, attention and yes, love. You see, most Moroccan Jews grew up eating Shakshuka as follows: First, Matbucha, a spicy salsa dish, was served along with a whole slew of salatim (mini salads – think tapas) as part of our Friday night Sabbath meal. Then on Sunday, we’d pop eggs into whatever Matbucha, also known as Salade cuite, was left, and that’s what we called Shakshuka. This recipe is based on what my Mom served us. I also brought it out with me and had various Moroccan Jews and North Africans taste it. There was my neighbor Dalia’s exterminator, a saucy nurse at Hadassah, a cab driver at 2 am, a visiting Libyan, a University student and of course, our honorary Moroccan chef Bracha Arnold. Needless to say, everyone loved it and that’s why I am sharing it with you again, this time with an accompanying video because that’s what all the Moms love these days. The Moroccans all agreed that no one should use onions in Shakshuka. The cab driver expressed horror at the idea and the saucy nurse made a face when I mentioned it to her. It’s not that we don’t like onions, it’s just that it’s not the way we grew up eating Shakshuka. I like to think that Shakshuka with onions is just spaghetti sauce with eggs.
I know it’s become popular to make all kinds of variations on Shakshuka – and that’s ok – it’s just not authentic Shakshuka. For instance, we never added cheese to our Shakshuka because the Matbucha base was made using meat utensils to be served at a fleishig (meat-based) Sabbath meal. As such, despite the fact that it contained no meat, it was nonetheless considered fleishig and could not be mixed with anything dairy. Similarly, making Shakshuka with cream sauce and spinach is simply ludicrous. How the hell is that Shakshuka? I have no idea. So there’s no cumin in this recipe. There are no onions. There’s no tomato paste, no jalapeno peppers, no spicy sauces or powders. None of that. Here are the ingredients:
Tomatoes: We used 24 fresh tomatoes in this recipe. That’s enough for maybe 6 servings. We managed to make only 3 and we ate the rest of the Matbucha/Salade Cuite with fresh, crusty bread from the Mahane Yehuda market down the street. I suggest you use as many tomatoes as you can because this stuff is magically delicious and it just won’t last. I mean it can be frozen or kept in the fridge for days and days – here it has never lasted past 3 days. Whatever is sitting around will be consumed. You can also use canned tomatoes if fresh tomatoes are out of season.
Peppers: My Mom uses Anaheim peppers exclusively and, depending on the season, these can be pretty hot. It’s ok to balance out the heat by using a mix of Bell peppers and Anaheim peppers. The only time my Mom would use Bell peppers was when she was preparing Salade cuite for Rosh Hashana so as not to usher in the new year with burning mouths! But I use a mix so that my Ashkenazi Yekke wife can eat it too. Every new batch contains less and less Bell peppers and I hope that soon she will tolerate and enjoy full powered Shakshuka! In this recipe, we used 4 healthy Anaheim peppers and about 6 beefy red Bell peppers.
Fresh Garlic: We used 4 cloves of fresh, spring garlic grown in Israel – not that scary bleached Chinese stuff. But even that is better than say, garlic powder. Ugh.
Sweet Moroccan Paprika: No need to use spicy paprika because the spiciness comes from the peppers. If you can’t find oil infused Moroccan paprika, that’s ok. Just use regular or roasted paprika. In this recipe we used about a quarter cup of paprika.
Olive Oil: We used about half a cup, just enough to make the Shakshuka shiny. The cab driver we spoke to who was very passionate about Shakshuka and Matbucha said that you could easily just use vegetable oil because some olive oils are bitter. You do whatever you think is appropriate – my olive oil is super yum so I used that.
Salt: To taste.
We begin by blanching the tomatoes and removing their skin. You simply cross the top of the tomatoes with a sharp knife, dip them into a pot of boiling water for a minute, put them into a bowl with ice water to cool, and then the skins should peel right off. Most recipes don’t ask you to do this, but if you love your family the way my Mom loves us, you’d do it. Seeing little bits of skin floating around in your food is icky.
Next fire roast your peppers. You can do this by roasting them in an oven until the skins start turning black and the peppers begin to shrivel (in our case it took 20 minutes) or put the peppers over an open flame and rotate them around with tongs till the skin blackens. Most conventional Shakshuka recipes don’t make you do this either but we do it for two reasons. First because roasted peppers taste amazing – roasting magically transforms the peppers from something pedestrian into a nuclear bomb of flavor. Secondly, roasting your peppers makes it easier to remove the skins – which you would want to do if you loved your family. Place the roasted peppers into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for about 20 minutes. Sweating the peppers this way makes it easier to remove the skins. Next, put on some latex gloves and peel the skins away, then cut into strips maybe an inch long. If you use Anaheim peppers, the less seeds and stems you use, the less hot the final product will be. But these sorts of calculations come with practice.
Peel and chop your garlic as your final step before cooking. No need to crush it, or mince it. Just cut it into little chunks. It should be visible in the Shakshuka.
Now you dump the tomatoes into a pot and add the sliced peppers and chopped garlic. Cook all that on medium heat without a lid for about one or two hours. What you’re trying to do here, besides cooking everything, is to reduce the liquid in the Shakshuka by 1/3 to 1/2. Shakshuka that’s too runny soaks your bread and what you want is something that’s more grippy and substantial. The first thing our passionate cab driver did was check the consistency of our Matbucha – only once he confirmed that it wasn’t runny did he deign to taste it. Shakshuka recipes that are ready in 20 minutes end up being too runny. You’ll see.
Once you’ve got the sauce to the required consistency, add in the rest of the ingredients. The paprika will change the color of the finished product into a deep, gorgeous red. The olive oil will make it shiny, and the salt – well, just add as much as you like. Other recipes call for pepper. We never ate this with pepper, but if you insist, just have some pepper available for your guests who don’t know better. Don’t ruin this dish for everyone else by adding anything extraneous. And now you have Matbucha or Salade cuite.
At this point, it would be Friday late morning and my Mom would put the tomato base in a container in the fridge for consumption cold at the upcoming Friday night Shabbat meal. We wouldn’t use it to make Shakshuka until Sunday morning and there’s something about a tomato-based sauce sitting and stewing in its own juices for 48 hours that makes it even more yummy. In any case, you take the Matbucha, put it in a pan, make some indentations and gently crack your eggs into the indentations and poach the eggs till you get them the way you like them – runny or hard. Your call. Serve with crusty white bread and some spicy Yemenite schug on the side (chili, garlic paste), or don’t. Top with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley. It’s up to you. Either way, you’ll love this dish. Make a bunch and save it in a Tupperware so that you can make Shakshuka whenever you like.
Let us know what you think! Yay!
Those of you who read Jewlicious often, may have noticed that we have upped our recipe content lately. This was occasioned by the fact that such content has become trendy of late and also because some assholes in Tel Aviv under the misleading name “Jewlishious” are promoting absolutely shitty recipe videos on social media.
Their Shakshuka recipe is nothing short of an abomination. Their Chraime (spicy Moroccan fish) recipe made my Doda Chana laugh out loud (Shu hadak? Vus vus?). Brisket? Disgusting. It’s no surprise that people who weren’t imaginative enough to come up with an original name, also make crappy food. As such, we have to right the record and try to save people from these horrors. In a similar vein, I have noticed that they are soliciting advertisers. As part of our scorched earth policy, anyone that advertises with them will be mocked and we will provide free ads to their competitors. Good luck assh*les!