Shakshouka refers to baked eggs in spicy tomato and red pepper sauce. The local library where I lived during my PhD was laden with cookbooks that no one borrowed. As a poor PhD student, I thought this was great and would often borrow several books at a time and pore through their pages. One such book was Celia Brooks Brown’s “World Vegetarian Classics” which I would highly recommend.
In the first year of my PhD, I went through about 2 months where I didn’t have a single day off. And each day at work was atleast 10 hours long. At the end of this two month period, there happened to be a public holiday which I decided to take. At this time, I had in my possession the book I mentioned in my previous paragraph. In a fit of madness, I decided that I would write down a few recipes from the book by hand so I could go back to them later. There was the choice of photocopying but this would involve going back into work which I wanted to avoid at all costs.
I used to make my own version of this dish which I called “Mexican eggs” for a few years and it was only recently that I learnt that it was a Tunisian dish called Shakshouka. My version had green peppers, ginger, garlic, chilli but this one doesn’t. I do like the genuine Shakshouka a lot more than my take on it. The red peppers bring a unique sweetness to this dish which green peppers don’t. The spices used in this dish are different to the spices I usually use (chilli, garam masala etc…) and I really really like them. When I learnt the name of this dish, I went to my recipes folder and sure enough, there it was – scribbled in my handwriting, copied 4 years ago. I have made a few changes to this recipe mainly because I didn’t have the exact ingredients and also because I wanted to experiment. The end result was pretty good – do tell me what you think.
2 large red peppers, thinly sliced
3 small onions, thinly sliced
6 medium salad tomatoes
4 medium eggs
1 and 1/2 tsp of Ras-el-Hanout
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp demerera sugar
2 tsp of fresh coriander
1 tsp of fresh mint
1 tsp of crushed pepper
salt to taste
chilli flakes to taste
1. I like a bit of labneh with this dish. Labneh is available in middle eastern stores but if you don’t here is a trick. Spoon 3 tablespoons of greek style yoghurt into a small sieve and position it over a cup (Picture 1 below). Let it sit in the fridge while you assemble the rest of the dish.
2. Sauté the onions until they are translucent.
3. Add the peppers and continue stirring until they are soft.
4. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, vinegar, sugar, mint and Ras-el-Hanout. The original recipe says pimiento but I didn’t have any. Ras-el-Hanout is this beautiful Moroccan blend of spices and the version I had also contained lavender and rosebud – smelt amazing.
5. Stir and reduce the sauce until it is thick and a wooden spoon when run through it leaves a clean trail.
6. Spoon this mixture into a dish and make 4 wells for the eggs. I clearly had a dish that was too large so if you don’t have a large one, you can use smaller, ramekin sized dishes for an individual serves.
7. I’m terrible at breaking eggs so my lovely partner did it for me and there wasn’t a single spill (Picture 6 below).
8. Bake the dish at 180°C for 30-40 minutes until the whites have gone from transparent to white (Picture 7 below). I baked mine too long (we were watching the Simpsons) and the whites turned papery so try and avoid doing that.
9. The water from the yoghurt should have gone through the sieve by now leaving an even thicker yoghurt. This is labneh if you leave it out for a day and let it go slightly sour. If you are in a hot country, a few hours should do.
10. Serve the shakshouka with little blobs of labneh and sprinkled with chilli flakes and fresh coriander.
11. I made some zucchini bread to go with it but pita works just as well.
12. It made a perfect Sunday lunch on a gloriously sunny day.