Shaksuka rocks my world. Yep, it totally does. To the world, Shakshuka originated in North Africa (Tunisia to be exact); as a humble meal for fishermen, farmers and all the hard working labourers of the region who would dip their bread or pita on the wonderfully poached eggs drenched in a spicy, tomato sauce. It then morphed into a cherished Middle Eastern tradition, with a few taste modifications. Each country cooks it a bit differently but they all preserve some of the same elements like cumin, tomatoes, onions, peppers etc. I think the Ottolenghi food empire can be credited for reviving this illustrious dish and giving the world a delicious piece of the Middle East for breakfast.
But for me, shakshuka holds a very poignant personal memory ; it originated in my late great aunt Victoria’s (Tia Toya) house, as part of her Sunday breakfast spread. It seems to me every family has that quintessentially eccentric, fun-loving aunt that defies all status quo norms. She was it. She was totally it and she owned it like nobody else. My grandfather’s youngest sister never married, was always impeccably made up, loved all things food & hated to be alone. She had a very active social life up until her death; and she never turned down a dinner party invite. Every Saturday night, the most fancy lady in town would drive up to my house and ask me if I wanted to pack an overnight bag and spend the night at her place. She had a bright, winning personality and her charm was utterly undeniable. An indomitable spirit, “Who needs a man?!” -she would often say with her characteristic crooked grin. “No one!” I would giddily answer.
And I’d pack a few essentials and got into her car every single time. We spent a lot of Saturdays together when I was a young girl. Dinner was usually Chinese take-out from a next door restaurant right next to her high-rise apartment building called “Hunan”. We would eat and watch old Hollywood movies until we could fight sleep no more. Splendor in the Grass, From Here to Eternity & Breakfast at Tiffany’s were some of our favorites. She had a gorgeous, brown toy poodle breed named “Petit” and she would feed the dog chinese food, too. [Yep, I know]. And every Sunday morning, she made me the same sunny side up eggs poached in this lovely, bright red tomato sauce. We ate them with fresh bread and mock mimosas for me, because that’s just how she rolled.
So I bring to you a childhood favorite & the perfect crowd pleaser: all you need is fresh bread, coffee on tap & a side of fresh fruit for the perfect Sunday meal. Oh, and I eat this for dinner, too. Like, ALL the time! The best part is, the sauce can be easily customized to your spice preferences. You don’t need to add any hot pepper or harissa if spicy is not your thing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! This dish brings a smile to my face every time.
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil * I don’t enjoy the taste of coconut oil w/ this dish
- 1 tbsp organic tomato paste
- 1 white onion finely chopped
- 1 tbsp raw cane sugar (offsets the acidity in the tomatoes, especially if you use canned)
- 1.5 cups of green bell peppers very finely chopped (about 2 peppers)
- 2 small red & yellow bell peppers (the smaller, the sweeter!)
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tsp of ground cumin
- 1 tsp of paprika
- 5 very ripe tomatoes, finely chopped (or you may use good quality crushed tomatoes, about 2 cups)
- 4-5 large free-range eggs (serves 2, but you’re welcome to add up to 6 eggs)
- 1/2 tsp of sea salt
- 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
- 1 tsp of sumac
- 3 bay leaves
- a handful of goat feta (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp of harissa (optional)
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro or parsley (optional)
For serving: warm pita bread, plain, thick greek yogurt stirred with 1 tbsp of olive oil & a pinch of salt. Or even better, labneh and/or a sprinkle of goat feta!
- In a large non-stick pan over medium heat warm up the olive oil and then throw in the onion & peppers & stir often for about 3 mins until they’ve softened. Add the tomato paste, the tomatoes, sumac, bay leaves, cumin, paprika, garlic, sugar, pepper & sea salt. Reduce heat to a slow simmer & stir often. Cook for about 10 mins until the sauce has thickened.
- Poke 4 holes (I call them nests) w/ a spoon & then crack an egg into each hole.
- If you want to speed the egg cooking process, cover with a lid. The whites will start clarifying faster. Cook for an additional 8 minutes. Do not overcook, the yolks should still be runny. It’s part of the serving/dipping charm. I slightly overcooked mine by leaving it for 10 mins.
- Enjoy with warm bread & labneh & you may season/garnish it with goat feta, fresh cilantro or parsley & some harissa right before serving.