The Participant Observer Recipe of the Month is for Shakshuka with Feta Cheese. Although there are several theories as to its origins and variations are found throughout the Middle East, Shakshuka is now considered to be the archetypal breakfast in Israel. Very easy to prepare, it is a dish that can be the main course for any meal; breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The word Shakshuka (much like the word for our very first recipe, Indonesian gado-gado) means "all mixed up". Food commentators and historians are literally all over the map concerning the origins of Shakshuka. Variously it is claimed to have originated in Morroco, Yemen, Syria or Turkey. It is more generally believed to have arrived in the Levant with Tunisian immigrants.
Like so many national dishes, the variations are boundless. Nowadays nearly any dish in the Middle East that has eggs cooked in a sauce might be called Shakshuka. Basic ingredients are tomatoes, eggs, and onions. Meat is often an ingredient in Shakshuka among Muslims and Christians, who use Merguez lamb or beef sausage and cheese. Shakshuka is a one-pan dish and, more often than not, is served in the pan that it was cooked in: either a tajine or a cast iron pan. An essential part of a Shakshuka meal is bread for dipping in the sauce, such as Challah or pita. Sometimes the dish is spicy, other times not. You can add extra hot sauce if that suits you.
There are several dishes from other cultures that are very similar to Shakshuka including Huevos Rancheros (with fried eggs) and Pisto Manchego (with eggs sunny side up) found in Spain. In Naples, Italy, a similar dish is called Uova in Purgatorio or "Eggs in Purgatory" wherein the eggs are "souls" and the red tomato sauce represents the flames of purgatory. Sometimes Shakshuka is served in a similar fashion to clam chowder and South African Bunny Chow by hollowing out a loaf of bread and filling it with the saucy dish. For this meal we chose Challah bread because it is great for soaking up the savory sauce.
Israeli Shakshuka does not include meat, as meat and dairy are a forbidden combination in the Kosher diet. This dish combines eggs and cheese. As long as the eggs don't have any blood spots and are from kosher fowl, they are considered pareve (neutral) and take on the status of other elements they are prepared with. So if eggs are prepared with dairy, they are considered dairy. If they are mixed with meat, they are categorized as meat. Therefore, Shakshuka is permitted with kosher eggs and no meat. (Information about Kosher foods from www.ok.org - the Kosher Certification Website.)
Perhaps the most famous Shakshuka restaurants in Israel are the Tripolian Dr. Shakshuka Restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. They are owned and operated by the Libyan chef Bino Gabso who serves several variations of the dish.
- 2 14-ounce cans of diced tomatoes (with juice)
- 6 large eggs
- 5 ounces feta cheese
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup of water
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/3 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon salt, more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- Heat olive oil on medium low in a skillet.
- Add onion and bell pepper and saute for 10 minutes.
- Stir in garlic slices, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and chili flakes and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Stir in diced tomatoes.
- Simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Add water as needed to ensurere there is ample sauce.
- Crumble feta evenly across top.
- Crack eggs carefully on top of Shakshuka.
- Cover skillet for five minutes until the egg whites are completely cooked.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with either bread or pita.
Recipe by T. Johnston-O'Neill
Photos by Shari Johnston-O'Neill
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