‘Shakshuka’: Tunisian? Israeli? ‘Desi’?

The traditional North African breakfast dish is a gloriously spicy way to start the day


‘Shakshuka’ makes for a perfect, spicy breakfast. Photo: Pamela Timms
‘Shakshuka’ makes for a perfect, spicy breakfast. Photo: Pamela Timms

Shakshuka will be one of my desert island breakfasts and not just because I have made it so often that I don’t need a recipe to rustle up this exotic-sounding start to the day. It’s more that it is a dish which, along with bedmi-aloo, idli-sambar and poha, turned me from a porridge and pastries kind of girl to one who now actively seeks out a savoury, spicy kick to her morning.

Shakshuka is a traditional North African (Tunisian and Moroccan Jewish, to be precise) breakfast dish of eggs cooked in a spicy stew of tomatoes and capsicum. From the Arabic word for “mixture”, shakshuka has also become a British staple—most people assume it’s a Middle Eastern recipe thanks to Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who introduced it to these shores. Such is Ottolenghi’s household-name status these days that in some parts of the UK, you will have more luck finding shakshuka on a breakfast menu than bacon and eggs.

Personally, I think of shakshuka as a desi dish as I first came across it in Israeli backpacker cafés in India. I also first started cooking from Ottolenghi’s books while living in Delhi and found his recipes were perfectly suited to the fruits and vegetables I found in local markets. Shakshuka became a firm breakfast (and sometimes lunch and supper) favourite during our Delhi years.

Red peppers wouldn’t traditionally feature on an Indian breakfast menu but the spice and eggs might well. It makes me think of the Parsi fondness for incorporating eggs in their cooking. One of my favourite Indian cookbooks, My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional And Modern Parsi Home Cooking by Niloufer Ichaporia King has a whole section titled “Eggs With Everything”. Kasa par ida, she says is a “cornerstone of Parsi cooking”, often a way of turning leftovers—stews, sauces—into a meal in their own right. Fans of Tamota par ida will certainly find nothing too surprising about shakshuka.

My suggestion of fried potatoes isn’t traditional, but for me an essential accompaniment to mop up all that spicy, peppery, tomatoey-ness.

Shakshuka

Serves 3-4

If you can, find the long, pointed red peppers. They are often sweeter and cook down better into a sauce-like consistency. If not, use normal red capsicum.

Ingredients

1 tsp cumin seeds

4 tbsp olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and sliced

4-5 large red peppers, stems and seeds removed and chopped into thin strips

A large handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped

5 large ripe (preferably overripe) tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

(If they aren’t sweet, add a teaspoon or two of sugar)

2 green chillies, slit

Salt and pepper

6-8 eggs

Method

Heat a large pan and put in the cumin seeds for a minute or two until they darken slightly and give off a lovely aroma. Add the olive oil, then the onions and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. Raise the heat and add the chopped pepper and coriander leaves, stir well, then cook for about 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and chillies, lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until everything is perfectly soft and sauce-like. Season with salt and pepper and chilli pepper/flakes if you’d prefer things a bit more spicy.

Make little dips in the sauce and carefully break an egg into each. Put a lid on the pan and cook until the eggs are done to your liking. It usually takes about 8-10 minutes for the whites to cook, leaving the yolk runny.

Serve with spicy fried potatoes (or not!)

Spicy Fried Potatoes

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

4 large boiled potatoes (about 400g)

2 tbsp olive oil

K tsp turmeric powder

K tsp chilli flakes

A good pinch of salt

Method

Cut the potatoes into 2cm dices. Put one tablespoon olive oil in a bowl and add the diced potatoes. Sprinkle with turmeric, chilli flakes and salt and mix well so that the potatoes are coated with oil and flavourings. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan, add the potatoes and cook until crisp and golden.

The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains. Pamela Timms tweets at @eatanddust and posts on Instagram as Eatanddust.

Write to Pamela at thewayweeatnow@livemint.com

READ MORE