With coronavirus making travel a tricky and even potentially dangerous prospect this year, we’re embracing the summer staycation. All week (and all summer) long, we’ll bring you transportive flavors and travel-inspired ideas from around the world, so you can take your tastebuds on a trip and give your mind a mini vacation while you’re still at home. Here, an intro to shakshuka, one of the best one-pan meals around.
If a truly perfect dish exists, it just might be shakshuka. Easy to make, totally flexible, both comforting and exciting to eat, healthy, inexpensive, and composed of ingredients you likely regularly have on hand, it checks all the boxes for an ideal meal—plus, it’s fit for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner!
As long as you like eggs and tomatoes, you’ll love this one-pan marvel, but even if you don’t do one or another of those ingredients, you can still make a version that appeals to you (there’s that aforementioned flexibility coming into play).
What Is Shakshuka?
Shakshuka (also spelled shakshouka), in it simplest form, is a warmly spiced vegetarian dish of saucy tomatoes, often with peppers or onions, with eggs cracked right into the mix, usually left whole and simmered to desired doneness, whether you prefer lightly poached or hard-cooked so the yolks are firm.
Haya Molcho, restaurateur and author of the “Tel Aviv” cookbook/travelogue, notes that “many families make [the sauce] over the weekend” because “you can prepare the ragout and use it over several days for different dishes such as pasta, as a bread spread, or as shakshuka.” She also shared a Green Shakshuka recipe from her book.
Where Did Shakshuka Come From?
The dish as we know it is North African in origin, although it may have descended from the Ottoman Empire’s saksuka, which did not include tomatoes but did feature meat. Today, shakshuka is most strongly associated with the Middle East and Israel in particular, where it was introduced by Jewish immigrants from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.
Related Reading: This Spicy Andalusian Egg Dish Is the Spanish Answer to Shakshuka
It’s always been an affordable, filling, and undemanding meal, so it’s no wonder it’s only kept gaining in popularity all over the world. Its inclusion in renowned Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s 2011 cookbook “Plenty” helped spread the word, and nowadays, Instagram is a steady source of tantalizing shakshuka shots. You’re apt to find shakshuka on even the fanciest brunch menus these days, but while some places may have the nerve to sell it for $20 and up, there’s zero pretension when it comes to the dish. You barely even need a recipe, and then only the first time you make it.
Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi, $15.29 from Amazon
The book that helped kick off shakshuka's popularity in the U.S.
Is Shakshuka the Same Thing as Eggs in Purgatory?
While they have no direct connection to each other, Mexican huevos rancheros, Italian eggs in purgatory, and Turkish menemen (in which the eggs are scrambled) are all similar to shakshuka, proving that the combo of eggs and tomatoes is universally appealing, although all you need to do is taste it to know that. Eggs in purgatory is the closest analogue, with its eggs cooked in a pan of marinara sauce.
Related Reading: 15 Shame-Free Ways to Eat Eggs for Dinner
What Does “Shakshuka” Mean?
The name means, roughly, “shaken” or “mixed up,” which is reflective of shakshuka’s casual composition. You’re basically just nudging things around a pan (a cast iron skillet is the most common vessel, but whatever works). There are no theatrics, no tricks to master, no pitfalls except maybe potentially burning things, but moderate heat and occasional stirring easily prevent that.
Is Shakshuka Good for You?
Generally speaking, yes. It’s packed with vegetables and all the attendant nutrients, but low in fat and naturally gluten-free if that’s important to you. If you don’t eat eggs, you can substitute silken tofu for a vegan version (purists will fight you, but it works). If you choose to load it up with cheese, labneh, and lots of pita, then perhaps it’s not exactly health food, but you could do much worse.
How Do You Make Shakshuka?
Basically, you make a thick tomato sauce and crack some eggs in it, but beyond that, there are lots of ways to shake up your shakshuka.
If you want, whether it’s your first or fiftieth time cooking shakshuka, you can alter the basic dish by adding almost anything that appeals, like more vegetables, from chopped eggplant, peppers, potatoes, artichokes, and squash, to kale, spinach, chard, and other hearty greens.
If you want to keep it vegetarian but add more substance, stir in beans, chickpeas, or lentils. And if you want meat, add that too—sausages like merguez or chorizo; ground beef, lamb, or chicken; whole pieces of poultry or meat; even fish or shellfish. Seriously, anything goes. Season it with smoked paprika, sumac, chili powder, za’atar, or your other favorite spices.
Then sprinkle on as much cheese as you please—feta is a classic choice—or leave it off entirely. Same goes for labneh (thickened yogurt), harissa or other hot sauce, and any other garnishes, like olives, fresh herbs (cilantro or parsley), fried shallots, preserved lemon… The choices are many, and they’re all yours.
vegan version that still feels a lot like the real thing.You can even subtract and substitute for the main components, although it will no longer be traditional (and maybe not technically shakshuka)—but everywhere it’s enjoyed, there are countless variations offered, and personal spins on shakshuka are part of its beauty. In your own kitchen, the most important thing is that you’re making something you want to eat, anyway. So feel free to go with a green sauce based on leafy vegetables and/or herbs if you’re not feeling tomatoes, or swap in silken tofu for the eggs for a
Lodge 10.25-Inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet, $14.88 from Amazon
A cast iron skillet is a great choice for this one-pan dinner (and so much else).
What Do You Serve with Shakshuka?
Once you’re done tinkering with—or just following—the basic formula, simply add pita, homemade flatbread, challah, or slices of any rustic crusty bread for sopping up the sauce. Or do as “Sababa” author Adeena Sussman suggests and serve it with crispy latkes.
In any case, you’ll be totally satisfied, and certain to come back for more.
Try one of these shakshuka recipes to get started.
This is a pretty classic version of the dish, streamlined and simple, with diced tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, garlic, cumin seeds, and paprika, plus eggs of course. You can leave the yolks as runny as you like, or cook until they’re set. Get the Basic Shakshuka recipe.
Our slightly more involved take on shakshuka amps up the garlic, adds Anaheim chiles and feta cheese to the tomato sauce, and tops everything off with zhug, which is sort of like a spicy Yemeni pesto, made from cilantro, parsley, more garlic, and za’atar. Get our Shakshuka with Zhug recipe.
There are many ways to make green shakshuka: nestle the eggs in a mess of collard greens and kale; blend peas and lots of bright green herbs for the sauce; even use shaved brussels sprouts, spinach, and zucchini. But this version from Love and Olive Oil is more like a Mexican interpretation, with a sprightly green tomatillo sauce. When they’re in season, you could try substituting green tomatoes for some or all of the tomatillos. Get the Green Tomatillo Shakshuka recipe.
This one from The Roasted Root demonstrates how easy (and delicious) it is to add extras to your shakshuka, like eggplants, leafy greens, and chickpeas. Check your fridge for any languishing produce that would be good to toss in; the dish will be happy to embrace it. Get the Eggplant, Chickpea, and Chard Shakshuka recipe.
Shakshuka without eggs is really just a sauce, or maybe a tagine. But if you can’t or won’t eat them, try taking a cue from Purple Carrot (a plant-based meal kit delivery service) and simmering soft dumplings of silken tofu in the tomatoes instead—for the protein, sure, but also to evoke the tender texture and floating-islands look of the poached eggs in the original. And no matter what kind you make, if you don’t mind cleaning two pans afterward, you can cook grains like kasha, couscous, quinoa, or rice and ladle the shakshuka over top. Get the Vegan Shakshuka with Tofu Dumplings Over Kasha recipe.
If you’re craving meat, you can add something as basic as ground beef to shakshuka, but spicy chorizo is especially good with the warming tomato sauce and gentle eggs, as this recipe from Always Order Dessert proves. Try subbing in merguez sausage too if you can find it. Get the Spicy Chorizo Shakshuka recipe.
If you want to think of shakshuka as a method rather than a specific dish, you can get even more creative. Scour the web and you’ll find suggestions as novel as leftover chili baked shakshuka, but cooking fish in a more traditional rendition of the sauce (whether instead of or in addition to the eggs) makes for a great weeknight dinner, so give The Mediterranean Dish’s fish rendition a whirl. Get the Fish Shakshuka recipe.
Check out even more international egg recipes for more great dinner (and brunch) ideas.