31 March 2011

Shakshuka – Recipe

Shakshuka has its origins in the Maghreb – the Arab West. Today it is a popular and delicious breakfast or supper staple across North Africa and the Middle East. The name roughly translates as “mixed up,” and at its core is a dish consisting of tomatoes, onions and eggs. Interestingly, and I'm not sure of the reasons, shakshuka was a dish traditionally prepared by the men of the household.

There are a myriad of shakshuka variations. Some add peppers, others feta cheese. Sometimes the eggs are cooked in the tomato sauce; sometimes they are scrambled, poached or fried separately. There are even some recipes that add meat to the dish (I've heard that in Libya it is not uncommon to have shakshuka with gideed, a type of dried salted lamb). There aren’t really any ‘proper’ versions, so feel free to experiment. This recipe is the one I remember from my childhood and therefore, by definition, it is the best. Of course, I may be a touch biased!

These days I love making shakshuka as part of a lazy weekend brunch. There’s something so comforting about the sweet smell of onions and garlic cooking gently on the stove. If you like, though, you can make the sauce in advance and then reheat and drop in the eggs when you are ready to eat. I like to cook the eggs so they are still soft, allowing the oozing yolk to mingle satisfyingly with the tomato and onion sauce. In my opinion shakshuka should always be served with a stack of warm pita breads and lots of hot, sweet tea.
Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 5 fresh plum tomatoes (about 600g worth), chopped (you can of course used tinned tomatoes, but I think fresh ones work better for this dish. I don't bother to peel the tomatoes – life's too short for that).
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 75ml water
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season
  1. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan. Add the onions and cook over a gentle heat for 7-10 mins until they are soft and golden (you don't want them to brown).
  2. Add the garlic to the onions and continue cook for a further 5 mins until the onions are just starting to caramelise.
  3. Sprinkle over the turmeric and cumin and cook for another minute or so to temper the spices. 
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, turn up the heat a bit, and simmer for 5-10 mins.
  5. Add the water to loosen mixture a touch (you may need more or less depending on the moisture of the tomatoes, but you're aiming for a consistency like pasta sauce). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Make four little wells in the mixture and break an egg into each one.
  7. Cover the pan and cook for 5 mins, or until the eggs are done to your liking.
  8. Sprinkle with flat leaf parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with lots of warm pita bread and sweet Assam tea.

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