I’ve been a fan of shakshuka since discovering it in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks Plenty (2010) and Jerusalem (2012) and in one of Melissa Clark’s New York Times Wednesday columns in 2013. In Clark’s words, shakshuka is “a one-skillet recipe of eggs baked in a tomato-red pepper sauce spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne.” She continues, “First you make that sauce, which comes together fairly quickly on top of the stove, then you gently crack each of the eggs into the pan, nestling them into the sauce…Shakshuka originated in North Africa, and like many great dishes there are as many versions as there are cooks who have embraced it.”
I make shakshuka in summer from fresh peppers and tomatoes, and it’s delicious, but this winter I started making it with roasted and frozen peppers and tomatoes. It’s just as good. In fact, the flavors of the already-roasted peppers and tomatoes are even richer than the flavors of the fresh versions.
The shakshuka recipe I most often follow is from Ottolenghi’s Plenty (2010).
½ tsp cumin seeds
190ml light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into 2cm strips
4 tsp muscovado sugar
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme, picked and chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tsp saffron strands
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Up to 250ml water
8 free-range eggs
In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and two tablespoons of coriander, and cook on high heat to get a nice color. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorful. You can prepare this mix in advance.
Place four saucepans on medium heat and divide the mixture between them. Break two eggs into each pan, pouring into gaps in the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with chunky white bread.
I especially like the instruction to toast the cumin seeds briefly before adding the oil because the cumin flavor permeates the dish through the oil. I leave out the sugar because the onions, peppers and tomatoes from my garden are already very sweet. In the summer, using fresh vegetables, I follow the recipe cooking sequence. In the winter, using already-roasted peppers and tomatoes, I sauté the onions until they are very soft before adding the peppers, tomatoes and other spices and cooking them until the flavors blend. Sometimes I’ll also add feta or goat cheese when I add the eggs, as Melissa Clark suggests. Finally, a half-batch of this recipe is perfect for two, and rather than using individual skillets, I usually use one skillet that will hold four eggs.
Tomato and pepper based shakshuka is the more traditional version, but this winter I’ve also been making what many call green shakshuka. The technique is the same, but instead of onions, peppers and tomatoes, the vegetable base for the eggs is a sauté of leeks or onions and greens like spinach, chard, collards or kale or a combination of these hardy greens. Green is as delicious as red and, in keeping with the season, it’s another great way to use the leeks and hardy greens in the winter kitchen garden.
In his latest cookbook, SIMPLE (2018), Ottolenghi has a recipe he calls Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar that is essentially green shakshuka. I’ve made it several times and it’s delicious.
Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large leeks (or 4 smaller), trimmed and cut into ½cm slices (6 cups/530g)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
2 small preserved lemons, pips discarded, skin and flesh finely chopped (2 ½ Tbsp/30g)
1 ¼ cup/300ml vegetable stock
7 oz/200g baby spinach leaves
6 large eggs
3 ¼ oz/90g feta, broken into 2cm pieces
1 tbsp za’atar
salt and black pepper
- Put the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on a medium high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the leeks, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft. Add the cumin, lemon and vegetable stock and boil rapidly for 4–5 minutes, until most of the stock has evaporated. Fold in the spinach and cook for a minute, until wilted, then reduce the heat to medium.2. Use a large spoon to make 6 indentations in the mixture and break one egg into each space. Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt, dot the feta around the eggs, then cover the pan. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
3. Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of oil and brush over the eggs. Serve at once, straight from the pan.
I’ve substituted kale and collards for the spinach in this Ottolenghi recipe and also used goat cheese instead of feta, and all are tasty.
Chard is a good another green in shakshuka as Sarah Copeland suggests in this New York Times recipe. The touch of heavy cream in this version also works wonderfully to blend together the vegetable flavors.
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 large bunch/1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard, stems and leaves separated and chopped (about 9 cups)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
⅓ cup half-and-half or heavy cream
8 large eggs
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed
3 ounces cotija cheese or queso fresco, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
1 avocado, sliced, for serving
1 small jalapeño, thinly sliced, for serving
Chopped cilantro, for serving
Smoked hot sauce, for serving
Corn tortillas, toasted, for serving
1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving
Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook until softening, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 5 minutes more.
Raise the heat to medium-high, add the chard stems, and cook to release some liquid, 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves, in batches, adding more as they wilt, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until completely wilted, 3 to 5 minutes more. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, pour in the half-and-half and stir loosely together.
Make eight small hollows in the cooked chard with the back of a spoon. Gently crack an egg into each hollow. Cover with a lid or foil and cook on medium-low until the eggs are just set, but still soft, about 7 to 9 minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle with salt, pepper, cotija, avocado, jalapeño and cilantro. Serve with smoked hot sauce, toasted tortillas and lime wedges.
Shakshuka is a popular breakfast, brunch or lunch dish, but I serve it most often for dinner. During our recent cold and snowy weather, it’s been a comforting winter supper with the added bonus of flavors that hold promises of summer.