My husband knows the drill. On any given Sunday he’ll watch me preheat the oven, drag the cast iron skillet out from under the kitchen island, and then line up four onions, four tomatoes, a bagful of assorted bell peppers and a fistful of garlic cloves. Spices? Check. Fresh cilantro? Got it.
Shakshuka time? he’ll nod.
Yes. Shakshuka time.
Apparently, this amazing Tunisian dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato-pepper sauce has been going on all over the world for some time, and I am super late to the party. I only learned about it last year. Tired of omelettes, I was looking for something new and zesty to make for brunch which didn’t involve bread. My mind was blown at first bite, and it’s been in my meal prep rotation ever since. Cheap, fresh and a real crowd-pleaser.
But. Like my bedazzled salad recipe, I can’t wait until I want Shakshuka to make Shakshuka. The prep can be a pain, which I don’t mind telling you up front. The good news is that the more often you do it, the easier it gets and once you’ve got that half-gallon mason jar filled to the brim, you are golden for the rest of the week. Great as a high-protein post-workout breakfast, a hot alternative to the same old lunch fare of sandwiches, salads or expensive carryout, or a meat-free dinner that can go from fridge-to-stove-to-table in 10 minutes.
Before I lay it out, here are some things you need to know:
Source. I adapted this recipe from the Paleo Perfected cookbook put out by America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), because they are experts in both kitchen testing and food science, and have already made every mistake for you. I did make minor tweaks and changes along the way, but largely left their original recipe intact. I chose to slow-roast my vegetables over a longer period of time rather than use ATK’s quick-broil method. Also, in this dish I don’t like my poached eggs too runny, so I cook mine longer than most recipes call for so that the yolk can firm up a bit. Other folks, I’ve noticed, like their yolks to run through the sauce and over their plate like lava from an active volcano. So their cooking time is super short. You can make them any way you want, just remember to eyeball it often so the eggs don’t accidentally overcook. I call this game Yolk Roulette.
Ingredients. I also wanted to avoid ingredients with added sugars or preservatives as much as possible, which meant fresh instead of canned tomatoes. I knew a Paleo-friendly version would be the least processed, and I also knew that ATK’s high standards and testing methods would deliver a certain complexity of flavor that I craved. (If you want a shortcut Shakshuka that can be whipped up in less time, Google one of the many other canned tomato versions out there. Nutritionist Ellie Krieger always makes good stuff, so I’d trust her recipe over others.)
Heat. I dialed the cayenne pepper back on my version. Like, way back. When I followed the original ATK recipe verbatim, it set my mouth on fire and I could barely taste or enjoy the other flavors as a result. Our family gatherings involve a lot of toddler nieces and nephews who go around begging food off our plates, so I didn’t want it to be too spicy for sharing. (My attitude is that adults can always add hot sauce or harissa to taste, if they want more heat.) I did, however, add some smoked paprika to my version to further deepen the flavor without added heat. You can use any paprika you have on hand, but my brand of choice is Rey de la Vera’s Artisan Spanish smoked sweet paprika.
Quantity. I doubled this recipe to last for several servings throughout the week, because I just don’t believe in going through all this work for one piddly meal. It will fill a large 64-oz (half gallon) mason jar, which is easier to fit and store in a refrigerator since it takes advantage of unused vertical space and narrow door shelves. If you think you don’t want to make this much at one time…you’re mistaken.
Make the Shakshuka, and they will come. Many with pack-up containers in hand. Or you can freeze it. Either way, you’ll thank me later. Because with my Shakshuka, there’s always a later. And it’s stupendous.
Open, pour, crack (egg), heat, and done.
“Shakshuka” Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce (adapted from Paleo Perfected by America’s Test Kitchen)
- 4 tomatoes, cored and halved
- 4 onions, coarsely chopped
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 yellow (or red, or orange, or purple, or white, whatever’s on sale) bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 teaspoons tomato paste
- 3 plus 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1/8 plus HALF of 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3 cups jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained and chopped coarse (more or less; I just use 2 jars of Trader Joe’s fire roasted red pepper, which cost $1.99 each)
- 1 cup water
- 4 bay leaves
- 2/3 to 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro (how much do you like cilantro? let that be your guide)
- FOR LATER/AT SERVING: Eggs. Large ones. Preferably organic. As many as you want to serve, up to 16.
- Preheat the oven to 425. Toss tomatoes and onions with 2 tablespoons oil and spread onto aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet; arrange tomatoes cut side down. Roast vegetables until softened and tomato skins are well charred, or around 20-25 minutes. (Everyone’s oven is different so check often to make sure they’re not getting overdone, rotating sheet halfway through roasting.) Transfer vegetables to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, about 5 times. Tip: I admit that I totally blow off that last step. I skip using my food processor because facing all its dirty bits in the sink afterwards hurts my feelings. I discovered I can get away with using my Blendtec blender for this last step if I am very careful to give it only 2 quick pulses. Any more than this and you will wind up with puree instead of chunks.
- Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in a large, *deep* skillet or dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. (*Tip: I have found the best cookware for this to be a heavy cast iron 5-Quart dutch oven or skillet, with 12-inch diameter and a minimum of 3.25″ depth.) Add the chopped fresh bell peppers and cook until softened and lightly browned, around 15 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomato paste, salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, cayenne and paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until tomato paste begins to darken, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in processed tomato mixture, jarred red peppers, water and bay leaves. Bring to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Off heat, discard bay leaves and stir in 1/2 cup of the cilantro. Transfer 3 1/2 cups sauce to now-empty processor (or blender) and process until smooth, anywhere between 30-60 seconds. Return puree to skillet and bring sauce to simmer over medium-low heat.
- OPTION A – IF STORING: Transfer the sauce to a 64-ounce Ball jar or other container of your choice, and leave uncovered to cool on a countertop for about 1 hour. Cover and store in the fridge for up to a week. When ready to use, oil the inside of a pan, spoon out your desired amount of sauce, bring to a simmer over medium-low heat (the sauce should be bubbling but not in a raging boil), and proceed to Option B.
- OPTION B – IF SERVING (assumes 4 servings): Off heat, make 4 shallow indentations (about 3 inches wide) in surface of sauce using back of spoon. Crack 1-2 eggs into each indentation and season eggs with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the egg whites are just set and yolks are still runny (or not, as we discussed) for about 5 to 10 minutes. This is where personal judgment comes into play. If it looks like the eggs are cooking too quickly, reduce the heat to low or simmer. In my experience, 5 minutes is way too short for my egg to firm up the way I like, so I generally keep a close eye on it and remove it from a low heat somewhere around the 7-9 minute mark. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and serve immediately. (Don’t be discouraged if the individual egg-and-sauce serving flops out of the pan and onto the plate in the ugliest display ever. In the end, no one who tastes it will care.)
Serving suggestions: For a delicious variation, add crumbled feta cheese on top and serve with a few slices avocado. For those who eat bread, you can serve with a crusty loaf on the side to sop up all the saucy goodness.
Did you know? In addition to a versatile spicy sauce that you can spoon over just about anything, a giant bottle of Shakshuka comes in handy for so many other things:
- Housewarming or “Move-In” Gift, because who has time to prepare meals from scratch when you are knee deep in unpacked moving boxes?
- Get Well Gift for someone just home from the hospital, who must not only recuperate from their illness but also from the wretched institutional food they were served. They will be so thankful for a quick, easy and nutritious meal they can put on in 10 minutes.
- New-Mom-Let’s-Go-Visit-The-Baby Gift. For all the reasons described under Get Well.
- Bereavement/Repast Offering. The grieving family has enough to deal with. When in doubt, along with comfort and a shoulder to cry on, always bring food.
- Holiday Hostess Gift. Lasts longer than a bottle of wine which, let’s face it, at least five other people will be bringing anyway. Great conversation starter at any party. And when your hosts wake up the next day wracked with hangovers, guess whose gift will save the day?
- Relationship Deal-Closer. Anyone you serve this to will decide they can’t live without you. Or your magic pans. (Send me pictures of the engagement announcement. You’re welcome.)