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Get Cultured: Shakshuka

There are endless reasons to travel the world, but one always stands out: food. Get Cultured takes you on a journey through cheesy dishes from different cultures (heyo), exploring how they came to be, what makes them significant, where you can find the real deal, and how you can make your own.

Missed last week’s post on the croque monsieur? Check it out!

Shakshuka, an Israeli staple, is a one-pan meal comprised of eggs, tomato sauce, vegetables, and spices. While the flavors make shakshuka perennially craveable, the simplicity of the dish keeps hungry folks coming back for more.

Shakshuka is an onomatopoeia in Libyan and Maghrebi Arabic, meaning, approximately, “all shook up” (so that’s what that Elvis song was about!). The dish originated in its recognizable form in North Africa, but its earliest origins extend all the way to the Ottoman Empire. Back then, saksuka, a stew of meat and vegetables, was popular among Arabic-speaking groups. Over the years, the dish changed shape, adding some ingredients, like tomatoes and peppers, and subtracting others. Most notably, North African Jews removed the meat from shakshuka to make it pareve and replaced it with eggs, later bringing it to Israel, where it has become a staple.

While shakshuka lacks dairy as a foundational component, it is frequently made with or served alongside labneh (Greek yogurt) to offset the spicy, tomato-y profile of the dish. Many recipes also add crumbled feta on top. Particularly in the US, dairy makes frequent appearances. The versatility of the dish—the only hard-line requirements are eggs and tomato sauce; the rest is up to the chef—allows for addition and removal of dairy at will, so, naturally, many choose the former.

Like poutine, shakshuka’s variants are as delectable as the original. One of the more popular alt-shakshukas is a green version of the dish, swapping tomato sauce for a creamy green one filled with all manner of vegetables—jalapeños, spinach, cilantro, tomatillos, or any other greenery that pleases the chef’s palate—and topped with crumbled feta.

Italy puts its own spin on the dish, calling it uova in purgatorio (“eggs in purgatory”), so called for the slow setting of the eggs in a sizzling red cauldron. This Italian version is often served with Pecorino Romano in place of crumbled feta and swaps shakshuka’s cumin, chili, and coriander for oregano, basil, and thyme.

Although shakshuka makes appearances at all mealtimes in Israel, breakfast is its time to shine, most often served in the same cast iron pan that it’s cooked in. The warm, spicy comfort food is traditionally most prevalent in the winter months, but its year-round popularity is ever-growing—as is its ubiquity in the United States. Over the past several years, incited by Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe in the book Jerusalem, the dish has become more and more trendy, making its way onto American brunch menus—even of restaurants that have no other Israeli dishes.

For an authentic shakshuka experience on its home turf, the consensus is that you can’t beat Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa, Israel. For almost a quarter of a century, this Libyan-style kosher spot has been serving traditional shakshuka and several variations to natives and tourists alike. While there is shakshuka everywhere you turn in Israel, this restaurant is famous for its charming atmosphere, exquisite food, and wide variety, so if you’ve only got time for one shakshuka stop, make it this one.

Photo credit: Reunionyc | Instagram

Photo credit: Reunionyc | Instagram

On this continent, it’s also not difficult to find shakshuka—or even to find good shakshuka. A particularly delectable one adorns the menu of Reunion, a modern Israeli café in Brooklyn, New York. Opened in 2014 by husband and wife team Eldad and Inna Mashiach, the menu is both authentic (the couple moved to New York from Israel several years prior to opening the restaurant) and Instagram-worthy. Their shakshuka, which is topped with feta and served with yogurt, is top notch.

Shakshuka is so user-friendly, making your own is an equally delicious option. Try this recipe, and don’t forget the feta!

Click here and learn all about the next cheesy dish in Get Cultured’s lineup: Welsh rarebit!

Feature Photo Credit: Michael Koukoullis | CC

Caroline Fenn

While Caroline Fenn’s primary pursuit is an M.A. in publishing from Emerson College, she thinks almost as frequently about whether burrata or Brie would be her desert island cheese. She comes to Boston via Connecticut and Rhode Island and also loves writing, coffee shops, and Fountains of Wayne.