Growing up in Dubai we never talked about Israel. For those who are from or have been to that part of the world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. With the Israel-Arab conflict and religious past, Arabs have no love whatsoever for the country. So until fairly recently, I didn’t stop to imagine what the country must be like – the food, culture and landscape, those thoughts never crossed my mind. Bustling metropolis – forget about it. I imagined a country living in the past, embroiled in conflict. Until David Lebovitz decided to visit and wrote up a splendid blog post on the subject.
Oddly enough, it made me miss home. And even though the post was mainly about food, it wasn’t really the types of food that I was craving. Sure, from the looks of it, Dubai does have similar dishes – especially the cheeses and the labneh (strained yogurt). No, what I really missed were the options for breakfast.
So a little bit of a backstory might be required here. Hannah and I have this discussion every once in a while regarding morning meals. Growing up in the US, she had the usual options for weekend breakfasts at home – cereals, pancakes, bacon, eggs and coffee. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love those things. But I like them occasionally. Back home, breakfast could mean a vast variety of things – sweet, spicy, salty, tangy and from varying cuisines. Now obviously, this was one of the benefits of living in the melting pot of cultures that is Dubai, and it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. But as usual, now that I can’t have it, I crave the heck out of it. I love hearty breakfasts, but I don’t always want it to be bacon and eggs.
So on reading Israeli Breakfast, I remembered all those breakfasts I had been craving. Sri Lankan milk rice with a spicy onion mixture on Fridays, morning runs to the boulangerie for pain aux chocolat in Lyon and assortments of Indian or Arab dishes from cafeterias on the way to school in Dubai. By the time I finished reading, Shakshuka, which was somewhat the focal point of the post, was at the top of my mind.
To start off, I don’t know how to even pronounce it. Is it shuk-shoo-ka or shuk-shok-aa? Both David L. and Deb from Smitten Kitchen call it an Israeli dish but I have a few North African friends who might punch me if I didn’t say it was one of their local specialities. The dish is believed to be Tunisian to begin with and is pretty popular in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya as well as Israel where it was supposedly introduced by Tunisian Jews. Who knows. I love figuring out where certain dishes originated but sometimes the topic can get pretty dicey. Just last week at work we had a Brit and an Indian arguing over vindaloo.
Shakshuka is a perfect brunch option – filling, spicy, with eggs, veggies and a chunk of bread. What’s not to love! And it’s a great break from the usual breakfast options. Researching online, it seems like some people say that the sauce is best prepared ahead of time and then warmed up right before the meal, but I read the blog post and then wanted to eat it 10 minutes later – so I didn’t have the luxury of a pre-prepared sauce.
Still, it doesn’t very long to put together – longer than a bowl of cereal of course, so this is definitely a weekend meal. I referenced this variant of the recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, minus a few ingredients. It’s not that I have a thing against those ingredients – I just didn’t have it at the time, plus they’re a teeny bit expensive (saffron and such).
Assemble the cast of ingredients!
Prep is fairly simple. You either dice or slice.
Throw it all into a cast iron skillet and sauté! P.s: Cast iron skillets aren’t necessary – I just love them!
I think I may have tossed in too much of the peppers and not enough tomatoes. It’s supposed to be a rich tomatoe-y mixture that resembles the texture of pasta sauce, but mine ended up like this. I’m not complaining though. Turned out great in the end.
So that’s the sauce that people recommend you prepare ahead of time. That way when you’re craving some shakshuka, you just spoon out some of that delicious mixture on to a pan and finish off the rest of the recipe. As I’m writing this I’m wondering why I didn’t do that!
Now the next part is the best in my opinion – the eggs! I love eggs in any form and I was way too excited as it cooked over the sauce.
Once that takes it’s own sweet time and arrives at the perfect texture – you end up with a wonderful breakfast. It took a little longer than I expected, but that was due to mistakes on my part. Definitely worth the wait. Enjoy with a hunk of white bread and a mug of Moroccan tea (maybe a post on that later!).
Serves 2 (two hungry people that is)
Time: 45 minutes
Adapted from Shakshuka by Yotam Ottolenghi
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 tbs olive oil
1/2 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, cored and cut into thin strips
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme, picked and chopped
2 tbs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro (or coriander if you’re outside the US), chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of paprika
Salt and Pepper
4 free-range organic eggs
1)In a cast iron skillet or large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin seeds on high heat for a minute. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. The point is to get them soft. I had to reduce the heat here because the cast iron skillet (God bless its efficiency) would have charred the onions on high heat.
2)Add the sliced peppers, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and a handful of cilantro and cook on high heat until the peppers are soft.
3)Toss in the tomatoes along with the cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for as long as it takes for the tomatoes to get mushy (technical term right there). The original recipe says 15 minutes but it took me a little longer because my tomatoes were far from ripe. Keep adding water as needed until you get a sauce that has the same-ish consistency as pasta sauce.
As I mentioned earlier, you can save this sauce for later and just continue from here for the rest of the recipe.
4) Set the mixture on medium heat and crack the eggs over it. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook until the eggs have just set.
Toss some cilantro over it and serve with some chunky white bread (baguettes will do), accompanied by a steaming mug of hot Moroccan tea!