Assuming all has gone according to plan, by the time you read this I will have made shakshuka for the third New Year’s in a row. What’s so great about it? Well, besides the fact that it’s delicious, it’s Israeli, it’s easy, it’s a great hangover cure, and it’s delicious—nothing.
Three years ago I lived in Israel and made shakshuka all the time. It’s basically just stewed tomatoes and eggs, but the combination of spices and fresh produce that go into it make it a dish worth eating at any time of day. I don’t cook much now (one of those things I keep telling myself I’ll do more), but I still manage to make shakshuka at least once a year.
Why? I fucking love it. And it’s great to make for others, because unless you’ve lived in the Middle East or nearby, you’ve probably never heard of shakshuka; yet everybody in Israel has eaten it at least once; and combined with the fact that I’ve now made it over a dozen times, here and in Israel, this is my dish. Yes, it’s a dish made all over the Middle East, but it’s still super Israeli, which makes it fun and exciting to share with my Minnesotan friends. But I even love just cooking it for myself, because it tastes like crack (by which I mean I’ll keep eating it until my stomach hurts… just like crack).
I moved to Israel in 2011, on a five-month program, and decided from day one that I wouldn’t buy any frozen or pre-packaged meals—partly because those options were limited anyway, partly because I was a vegetarian at the time, and partly because I wanted to force myself to cook. And it being a program, and one only lasting five months, we were all given move-in ready apartments, with full kitchens.
I truly was spoiled. My best kitchen knife was smaller than a ballpoint pen, and halfway through my stay the blade became unglued from the handle. My tiny oven could be unplugged from the wall and carried out by any moderately strong individual. I (luxuriously) had two pans, but one was so big I almost never used it; mainly because our stove was a portable double burner left over from the Palmach that we had to prop up on empty black bean cans so the cord could reach the outlet.
But I cooked all the time. I roasted shitloads of vegetables in that sad excuse for an oven; I chopped up garlic so fine you would’ve never guessed that my knife could’ve looked at home in a child’s play-set; I pulled out all the stops, even using my giant pan, to make the best “I’m sick and just want comfort food” tortilla española you’ve ever had. And I aced my shakshuka recipe.
I worked almost exclusively from the Smitten Kitchen blog, because every recipe I tried from her blog always turned out incredible. We didn’t have anything to measure with, so in true Israeli fashion I’ve adapted the Smitten Kitchen recipe to more accurately represent how I now make it.
4 decent-sized jalapeños, diced (Do you want your mouth to burn? Add more. Afraid of spice? Add less.)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5-ish garlic cloves
1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes, undrained (whole or diced, but whole tomatoes are more fun)
Crumbled feta cheese if you got it
Fresh herbs if you got ’em (Parsley is good; I’ll put fresh basil in anything.)
Pita bread, warm
Put some olive oil in a pan or skillet and heat that shit up on medium-high. Dump in the onions and jalapeños and cook, stirring occasionally, until you want to grab a fork and eat that soft, sweet-smelling mix as is—about 5 minutes. If I have other vegetables lying around I’ll usually cook those up too—bell peppers are my favorite, but most things will work just fine.
Now add your garlic, cumin, and paprika—there’s no measurements, keep adding and stirring until the onions turn an irresistible rust color and you just want to dive in. (It’s about a tbsp of paprika and a tsp of cumin if you’re freaking out and just looking for some direction in life, but be bold! Don’t settle! Stick it to The Man!) Cook all that together and keep stirring for about two minutes or until the garlic gets soft.
While that’s all going, open your can of tomatoes. If they’re whole, dump all the contents in a bowl and crush with your hands. (It gets fucking messy, so watch out.) If they’re diced already, then just chill out for a sec (or crush them further). Add the tomatoes and their liquid to pan along with some water (about half a cup), reduce your heat a couple notches and let it simmer and thicken. This is always a crapshoot—it should take about 15 minutes, but I’ve had to wait 20-25 before.
Once it’s turned into more stew than soup, crack your eggs and distribute them evenly over the sauce. Think of each egg like one serving of the dish. This recipe should fit 4-6 eggs, but you’re welcome to eyeball it and decide for yourself based on supply and demand. Cover and continue cooking until the yolks are just set. Now go to town. Add some cheese, add some herbs, baste the egg whites; you’re making stew here, not a wedding cake—you’ll be fine.
Eat with pitas. Or sourdough. Or cracked wheat. You can dip the bread in the shakshuka, scoop the shakshuka onto the bread and eat it like a bagel. You can eat it on a fucking bagel! Moral of the story: it’s gonna taste good. Trust.
Happy New Year.