Did you know that shakshuka has become a common dish in Goa? Really! I read it in Masala Herb blog (she has lots of interesting recipes there, worth a visit), written by an expat (or soon to be ex-expat) living in the land of paradise. Israelis who have settled in Goa have introduced this flavorful egg and tomato medley to the locals.
Coming from a small country, Israelis have a propensity to travel to far off destinations and often get homesick for their favorite foods. Take Nelson, New Zealand for example. I always dreamt of opening my very own sambusak stand on the South Island but someone beat me to it . Then there’s the falafel eatery in Fairbanks Alaska, part of the culinary landscape along with bear salami.
There are some who say shakshuka isn’t Israeli at all, but an Arab dish (or vice versa). Anyone who claims exclusivity for most ethnic foods does not view it globally, or even outside of their tiny neighborhood. I imagine cuisine as a cloud, amorphous and ever changing, blanketing large parts of land below. Small pieces break away and end up far from its origin. As the weathervanes spin the entire mass can migrate swiftly new regions. Indeed, Lebanese food in Latin America or French food in China has become the norm as cultures intermingle.
Food history can be studied, just as a meteorologist can detect the movement of the atmosphere. The providence of a certain dish may sometimes be pinpointed to a specific time and place but more often it is lost to history. In the case of shakshuka it was originally made in North Africa, mainly by Tunisians and Libyans and was adopted by the Jews there as well. With the instability caused by the shifting political climate the majority of Jews immigrated to Israel, bringing their food traditions with them.
So this dish is “owned” by a religiously and culturally diverse group, a group who have a lot more in common than they’d like to believe.
There are many variations of shakshuka, such as spinach and cauliflower, but tomato is by far the most popular. Tomatoes are indigenous to South America so perhaps we should give credit to them for this favorite Middle Eastern dish.
I peeled the tomatoes in this recipe but it isn’t necessary.
6-7 super ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (if you have mediocre produce it’s better to used canned high quality Italian tomatoes)
1/2 hot chili pepper, minced (optional)
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste (only for subpar tomatoes)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
3-4 eggs (I separated the eggs and only used the yolks since my son wanted to make Pavlova)
A small bunch coriander or parsley, finely chopped
Olive or vegetable oil, a couple of tablespoons or enough to coat the bottom of the pan
Coat the bottom of a deep pan with olive oil and add the onions. Fry on medium heat until the onions soften and become translucent. Add the garlic and stir until it releases its aroma. Add chili and the chopped tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes become soft and release their moisture, about 20 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add ½ cup of water and stir. If using, add the tomato paste. Add the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and stir.
With a spoon, make a few small notches in the sauce and add the eggs into them (if the eggs are perched on top of the sauce it takes longer for them to cook). Do not stir. Cover the pan and let cook until the eggs are set. If using whole eggs and soft yolks are preferred, it’s a good idea to separate the eggs. Use only the yolks or add the whites first since they take longer to set. Decorate with coriander or parsley and serve immediately.
Serve with tomato and cucumber salad and lots of hallah bread to dunk in the sauce.
Balkan variations: add roasted peppers, feta cheese and grilled eggplants when serving.
Shakshuka pictures from restaurants across Israel.